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Sailor Abby Sunderland's team replies to criticism aimed at Abby and her parents

Abby Sunderland, right, arrives with Nathalie Deschamps, second right, head of district for the Kerguelen islands, in Port-aux-Francais, Indian Ocean.

Abby Sunderland and her parents, Laurence and Marianne, have become the focus of intense public and media criticism since the 16-year-old sailor ran into trouble in the Indian Ocean on Thursday, when the Thousand Oaks teen activated two emergency locating beacons after her 40-foot sailboat, Wild Eyes, rolled in high seas and lost its mast and satellite communications equipment, initiating a rescue mission from Australia.

To address some of the most common comments received, Team Abby has posted a new item on Abby's blog, which is excerpted below:

We are so thankful once again for all of you who understand and support Abby’s spirit of adventure and for those of you who have the humility to give the respect that Abby and her team of experts deserve. It is impossible to answer every criticism. There are so many who are only hearing of Abby for the first time and who, due to a lack of understanding and knowledge, accept what the media is saying without question or without discerning that they could be wrong or the motives of those involved may not be sincere. We will attempt to comment on several themes of concern:

LETTER FROM THE AUSTRALIAN SEARCH & RESCUE

Can you put a message on your blog informing your readers that the Australian government has not requested any recovery cost for Abby’s search and recovery.

Australia like the US have always responded to requests for help and have provided whatever resources are required. At no stage have we asked for cost recovery. Likewise domestic search and rescue have never requested payment for services. If a person wishes to make a contribution to the costs then that is their call. It is not expected or asked for.

Bottom line is, don’t get sucked in by the media. I would like a clarification on your blog just letting your readers know that the Australian Government has not requested payment nor would they. Let’s not let the media portray the many groups that were involved in Abby’s rescue as a bunch of people motivated and driven by money. This is not the case.

-- Search and Rescue Volunteer Perth.

REALITY SHOW

Laurence and I were approached by Magnetic Entertainment last year before Abby departed to shop a reality TV show based on our family. Abby's trip was already sponsored. Their idea was to do an inspiring show about Zac and Abby’s adventures, what our family was like and what made them as strong and independent as they are. The show was shopped and not sold. All rights were returned to us. There is no reality TV show or documentary in the works and we will not be persuing one. We find it ironic that the media, who are spreading gossip and sensationalizing Abby’s story for profit, have the nerve to criticize us for supposedly doing the same thing -- very ironic.

TOO FAR SOUTH, TOO LATE IN THE SEASON

Abby's trip was being watched and guided daily by Commander’s Weather, a team of meteorologists that have been routing sailboats around the world for 30 years. Their clients include professional sailors such as Steve Fossett, Ellen MacArthur and PUMA Ocean Racing.

From meteorologist Ken Campbell:

We were late crossing the Indian Ocean, but I felt Abby was fully capable. Do we handle sailors crossing the North Atlantic in December? Sure, but they follow our rules and we push them as far S as possible and avoid headwinds. We tried to keep her as far N as possible, but there is such a thing as too far N and the worst situation of all would be headwinds and we did avoid those.

Very few people have ever forecast weather there (the southern Indian Ocean), let alone route sailboats. This storm was not unusual for that location, for that time of year and the strategy was the best there could be for that situation.

You are great, loving and caring parents, with a remarkable daughter ... she is a fine example of the true human spirit! That is what should be celebrated, not criticized. By the way, she is 16, not 8.

The full post can be read here.

Many people probably don't consider that the Sunderlands are a family whose lives revolve around sailing, and they have a far different perspective of it, just as children who grow up around, say, auto racing, bull riding or motocross -- all potentially dangerous endeavors -- might (though, of course, none involves having your child alone in the middle of the ocean). No matter, it sounds as if the Sunderlands are exhausted from the media attacks, but they have to realize that we are, sadly, in a world where sensationalism sells.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Abby Sunderland, right, arrives with Nathalie Deschamps, second right, head of district for the Kerguelen Islands, in Port-aux-Francais. Credit: Loic Bourc'his / Associated Press / Terres Australes et Antarctiques Francaises

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Comments (4)

Good to see that the Sunderland family has posted these clarifications. It's amazing how many people have taken this story and run with it.

We could argue all day about what exactly defines "maturity" or "adulthood" but I don't think the dozens of us who have commented on this issue will be able to agree. I, for one, commend Abby for her efforts and will listen to what she has to say - not because she is any specific age but because she is a fellow person whom I identify with. It's easy to say "teenagers can't think for themselves" (and I would guess that there are quite a few who cannot) but you cannot fit all the people in the world into categories. There are some teens who know what they are doing and understand the consequences and risks.

I adore the Sunderlands and even helped sponsor Zac on his journey. I think the attacks regarding age and what have you are unfair and unfounded. Had she succeeded, the media would have been singing a different tune about their new-found darling. With that said however, I think it was absolutely foolish to route Abby through the southern Indian Ocean during winter. That is the last place on earth any human being would want to be! And, I feel that caution and safety were thrown to the wind trying to set an age record. That is the real error here and nothing else, not age, experience motivation or anything. The above explanation from Commander's Weather reads more like a justification for their MAJOR scew up!

Abby's parents were wrong on at least three levels.

First and foremost, no 16 year old has the mature judgment to decide whether to embark on such a journey. Numerous psychological studies have been backed up by actual physical evidence that the human brain does not mature until the early 20s. See e.g. "Anatomical changes in the emerging adult brain: A voxel-based morphometry study" (Craig M. Bennett, Abigail A. Baird, Human Brain Mapping, Volume 27, Issue 9, Pages 766 - 777). That is why historically persons have not been considered "adults" until age 21 (although I recognize the recent trend towards 18) and parents are charged with responsibility for their minor children. On this level her parents utterly failed her.

Second, as their weather router admits, she began her voyage late and that put her in the Southern Ocean in winter, no place for a 40 ft sailboat. When equipment problems initially delayed her, the trip should have been postponed until the following year, but the pressure to be the youngest forced her into an absurdly risky venture. There is not much sponsorship money for the fifth 18 year old to solo around the world.

Third, her father put her on a hot rod racing vessel that its designer acknowledges is very difficult to handle. It is also delicate due to its extreme lightweight construction. Look at the history of the Vendee Globe solo round the world race (which uses similar vessels) and in any given race 1/3 to 2/3 of the yachts don't finish, usually due to dismasting or losing their keel. At least Jessica Watson's father put her in a slower but sturdier cruising sailboat that survived a roll in the South Atlantic.

This is a shameful example of parents exploiting their children for their own ego and/or commercial gain.

It's understandable that the media and others would attack Abby Sunderland. After all, she's a courageous young woman who is living her dream. That has got to stir strong resentment in all the TV watchers that are afraid to live their dream. The media, whores that they are, feed and manipulate the resentment. They don't care who they slander as long as it sells a commercial.


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