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Rescued sailor Abby Sunderland steams homeward

June 12, 2010 | 11:17 am

Abby Sunderland

Exhausted but relieved, Abby Sunderland’s parents on Saturday morning thanked maritime agencies on three continents and the countless well-wishers who were rooting for their 16-year-old daughter’s rescue from her disabled yacht deep in the Indian Ocean.

"We had a great answer to our prayers today," Laurence Sunderland told reporters outside the family’s Thousand Oaks home. "We are obviously relieved."

A French fishing vessel called Ile de la Reunion plucked Abby from her damaged 40-foot sailboat, Wild Eyes, early Saturday morning. From the rescue craft, Abby spoke with her family just after 3 a.m. The conversation lasted about 20 minutes.

"She was tired and her voice was a bit smaller," said her mother, Marianne Sunderland. Still, the girl who saw her dream of a solo, round-the-world trip thwarted by wild seas, mustered enough humor to make a few jokes. Her mother is pregnant and due to deliver a baby boy in about two weeks, and Abby lightheartedly said she was "sorry for stressing out Charlie," as her brother-to-be has been informally known.

On a blog posting from the French craft, Abby wrote: "The long and short of it is, well, one long wave and one short mast (short meaning two-inch stub). …Crazy is the word that really describes everything that has happened best.’’

Waves about 25 feet high snapped the carbon-fiber mast of Wild Eyes on Thursday. Abby triggered a couple of emergency signals and was spotted by observers from an Australian jet about 20 hours later.

Her father said he believed Abby was uninjured except for a few bruises. In eight to 10 days, she’ll reach the French possession of Reunion, an island off the African coast. On the way, the fishing vessel will stop at the Kerguelen islands, where Abby will transfer to a larger craft. The Sunderlands were not certain just when Abby would arrive back in Thousand Oaks.

Again on Saturday, the Sunderlands defended themselves against accusations that they had negligently allowed their daughter to risk her life.

"It wasn’t a flippant decision," said Laurence Sunderland, adding that his daughter had spent half her life on the water and was delivering yachts solo at the age of 13. He said he made a few efforts to dissuade her, including showing her the rough seas around Point Concepcion. And he kept her from pursuing her dream until she was 16 – a few years after she had become taken with the idea of becoming the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

For a time, her older brother Zac held the title, circling the globe at 17 in 2009 — six months before Abby cast off from Marina del Rey on Jan. 23.

On the phone after her rescue, Abby told a close friend who was with the family that she’d made a major decision about another challenge. The teen, who along with her six siblings is home-schooled, spoke about a mock-trial competition coming up after her return. She's rounded Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope before a harrowing adventure in one of the remotest spots on earth, but Abby says as for the mock trial, she'll sit that one out.

-- Steve Chawkins

Photo: Abby Sunderland sits aboard her boat, Wild Eyes, in December, before attempting to sail solo around the globe. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times