8 Years After A Girl Was Pulled From The Ocean, Her Abandoned Boat Was Finally Discovered

Sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland had her sights set on sailing around the world in 2010. A successful voyage would have meant that she would have been the youngest person to ever achieve this, however, the outcome did not go according to plan.

Navigating The World

Abby Sunderland had a lot to look up to, her brother was the first person under 18 to have made that same journey that she was about to embark on back in 2009. Coming from a family that loved to sail, growing up, she spent a lot of time doing so and she was determined to follow her brother.

Are You Ready?

I knew she was freezing cold, tired and hungry,” Laurence explained. “And we’d been at it for, you know, 20 hours at that stage. I said, ‘So, Abby, are you ready to sail around the world now?’” She wasn’t put off by some treacherous water. Oh no, so she answered, “Where is my boat?”

The Pros and Cons Of The Journey

Abby’s mom, Marianne, also felt the same way, the family had gone through the pros and cons of Abby’s journey. “Could there be a tragedy? Yeah, there could be,” she retorted. “But there could be a tragedy on the way home tonight, you know, or driving with her friends in a car at 16. You minimize the risks.”


However once word spread about her plan. T.J. Simers, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote an article, stating that he thought it was “Child abuse. Child endangerment. I just don’t understand the idea of risking life. This kid’s going to be out there all by herself.”

She’s Just A Kid

“Death is a possibility. Bad weather. Are you kidding me? Who’s responsible for this? She’s a kid,” Simers wrote in the article. Abby didn’t deny to ABC News that she was “definitely nervous” about her plan to set sail all alone. However, she also responded to concerns by saying, “I understand [the] ocean and I understand how dangerous what I’m doing is.”

I Know I Need To Be Careful

“I understand how careful I need to be out there,” Abby was adamant. And her parents agreed, as long as they felt she was ready, too, and they did. Laurence confirmed that they trusted Abby’s sailing abilities. So, there it was, the day arrived for her to set sail aboard her boat which she called Wild Eyes on January 23, 2010, from Marina del Rey, California.

Setting Sail

On route, she encountered some ocean’s dangers. She spoke to 20/20 after 101 days on the water and said her boat had been hit by “a rogue wave,” as she described it. “I did get knocked down,” she said. “I’d be happy if that didn’t happen again.”

Still On Her Way

She continued on, stopping in South Africa to fix her vessel, and it seemed that Abby’s trip was going well. “I think it actually might be more fun if there was somebody else on board,” she said. “But I’m happy to do it alone, too.”

Halfway Mark

On Monday, June 7, Abby marked the halfway point of her expedition. But just two days later, or as she described “a rough few days,” something happened. “I’ve been in some rough weather for a while, with winds steady at 40 to 45 knots, with higher gusts,” she wrote. What would happen next all alone on the open sea?

Gail Force Winds

The treacherous weather conditions had badly affected the boat, damaging the sail and forcing her to do repair work before conditions worsened. “I managed to take [the sail] down, take care of the tear and get it back up in a couple of hours,” she wrote. “It wasn’t the most fun job I have done out here.”

Worsen And Worsen

“With the seas still huge, Wild Eyes was rolling around like crazy,” Abby added. The conditions got so unbearable, that she had no choice but to contact her parents to tell them the winds were threatening at almost 70 miles per hour. If that wasn’t bad, monster 50-foot waves had hurled themselves into her boat and knocked her over multiple times. She was very brave.

Awaiting Contact

Her parents, keeping calm and a brave face, then logged onto her blog to give followers an update on the situation. Abby had managed to get the water out of the engine and start it, but that was the last update they received directly from their daughter. As they awaited another phone call from her, they were contacted by the American search and rescue authorities.

Search Parties In Action

What happened next was that American, French and Australian authorities set about on a search and rescue mission, sending nearby ships toward Abby’s signaled location. They had also arranged for an airplane to fly over and search the area by the time it was bright outside. In the meantime, Laurence and Marianne said that Abby had the equipment to survive in the meantime.

Surviving The Wait

“[Abby] has a dry suit, survival suit, life raft and ditch bag with emergency supplies. If she can keep warm and hang on, help will be there as soon as possible,” Laurence and Marianne wrote on her blog to keep readers ensured she would be ok. The boat was also “equipped with five air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull damage,” and was “designed to self-right in the event of a capsize.”

Thirteen Hours Later

Thirteen hours later, her parents posted another update. “The plane arrived on the scene moments ago.” “Wild Eyes is upright but her rigging is down. The weather conditions are abating. Radio communication was made and Abby reports that she is fine.” “We’ve got our Abigail back. Probably the best news we at home base could have wished for. We are ecstatic,” Laurence told the ABC. He confirmed that, she would enq her quest now and not continue on.

Relieved But Sad

Of course she was so happy to be rescued, Yet Abby was also understandably upset that it didn’t go to plan. Even with those moments a part of her story forever, Abby still mourned the end of her trip around the world. “The worst thing to think about was all those great times, they were all gone now and my trip was over,” she wrote. “No more sunsets on Wild Eyes, no more surfing, no more world adventures. It was hard.”

Hard Time Returning Home

“I’m really happy to be home, very sad things didn’t work out,” she said to the local news station. “I have sailed 12,000 miles and I am proud of my achievement. The more I sail, the more I like sailing.” she said she still wanted to complete her sail around the world. Yet she wanted to focus on other things. Wild Eyes had an unfortunate fate. Following the damage to the boat, the young sailor was forced to abandon it in the middle of the ocean.

Miraculous Return

Eight years later, however, on December 31, 2018, a tuna-spotting aircraft was gliding over Australia’s Kangaroo Island. And then it noticed an upside-down yacht floating in the water. So, two fishing boats and a police helicopter headed to the scene to check out what it was. The yellow yacht was now covered in barnacles, but there it was Wild Eyes had returned.


Of course, word of Wild Eyes’ discovery soon got out and spread like wildfire to the Sunderlands, who were more than surprised to hear the boat had reappeared. Abby’s father, Laurence, told MSN, “I was just gobsmacked… just incredibly amazing.” And the boat’s condition only further validated that sentiment.

Drifting At Sea

It seemed that Wild Eyes had traveled quite far in the eight years it spent drifting alone. Oceanographer David Griffin has theorized that the boat may even have circumnavigated the globe – just as Abby had initially envisioned. “There is every chance it has done a lap of the world already and is on its second time around,” he told The Advertiser.

Jumping At The Chance To Get It Back

Abby’s father really wanted to travel to Australia and collect Wild Eyes himself. “There’s a part of me that initially is like, ‘Let’s just jump on a plane and go get the boat and tie it up somewhere.’ I’d like to see it back in the port where it left from all those years ago,” Laurence imagined.

Bringing Back Memories

Abby agreed with her father that bringing it home would be “great.” In a statement, the 25-year-old wrote that she would be especially curious to know “what’s inside and if any of the video equipment is still there.” Seeing Wild Eyes eight years after her treacherous adventure made Abby emotional. “My heart skipped a beat,” she stated. “It brought back many memories – good and not so good –but it was neat to see it after so long.”

Moving On With Times

According to Abby’s father – and as evidenced by her statement – the Sunderlands have “all moved on,” he told NPR. Abby went on to move to Alabama, where she and her husband are loving parents to three children, with another on the way. Yet she said that the love of sailing is something she wants to pass onto her kids, and she doesn’t want to give it up even after the harrowing experience.