Teen Sailor Describes Harrowing Voyage

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Teenage sailor Abby Sunderland returns home to Southern California with stories of how a rogue wave snapped her mast and ended her effort to circumnavigate the globe. She also addresses critics who question the wisdom of a 16-year-old girl sailing solo on the high seas.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Abby Sunderland is back home with her family in Southern California now. Sunderland is the 16-year-old sailor whose solo voyage around the world ended when her boat's mast snapped. Today in Los Angeles, she told reporters she's proud of what she did and appalled at what some critics have been saying about her parents.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRISBY BATES: In a room with a view of the marina she set sail from earlier this year, Abby Sunderland faced reporters to discuss her aborted journey and the media coverage of it.

First, she thanked a long list of people and institutions responsible for her safe rescue, beginning with the tiny French island in the Indian Ocean.

Ms. ABBY SUNDERLAND (Sailor): The Reunion Island Navy, the captain and crew of the Osiris, U.S. Coast Guard, Australian and French governments.

BATES: Then a special thanks to big brother Zac, who'd sailed the globe alone the year before.

Ms. SUNDERLAND: And he's one of the few people in this world who really understand what I've been through and why we do what we do.

BATES: Why their parents let them do what they did has focused some scathing criticism on Laurence and Marianne Sunderland. Some suggested that Abby's voyage was motivated by a reality TV show deal, something she denied today. And Abby made it clear that all the hateful words aimed at her mom and dad stung.

Ms. SUNDERLAND: To be honest, it's extremely hurtful. And some of it, I just can't believe that people would say something like that to anybody. Luckily, because I've been on ships and stuff, I really haven't been able to see a lot of it.

BATES: Her parents were absent this morning because Marianne was giving birth at that very moment to the family's eighth child - a boy.

Their publicist, Lyall Mercer, read a statement they've sent that emphasized Abby's long months of preparation; mental and physical.

Mr. LYALL MERCER (Publicist): We don't expect or either ask for everyone to agree with our decision to allow Abby to follow her dream. But we do ask for others to respect our decisions as parents, just as we respect other parents, who may make decisions for their children that we may not for ours.

BATES: Abby said people who decided she was too young for the adventure were wrong, period.

Ms. SUNDERLAND: I've crossed two oceans. I've sailed around Cape Horn and Cape Agulhas. The questioning of my age should have been over weeks, if not months ago.

BATES: And she emphasized that the storm the media kept crediting with ending her trip wasn't the reason her boat became disabled.

Ms. SUNDERLAND: The storm I was in did not roll my boat. I was hit by a rouge wave once the storm was already dying down.

BATES: Jeff Casher, the veteran sailor who was one of Abby's technical advisers, said even though they've lost contact with her the night of the storm, he was fairly certain she had survived.

Mr. JEFF CASHER (Sailor): I think there's a little bit of luck involved when you're out on the ocean. I think it's a combination of some luck and a lot of preparation on the boat and her taking all the right actions.

BATES: That combination and a coordinated rescue effort brought Abby Sunderland home to her family, jetlagged but healthy, to face a whole new set of challenges: learning how to drive on L.A.'s infamous freeways, which she says is a whole lot scarier than sailing a vast ocean in a small boat.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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