Eight and a half years after it was abandoned in the middle of the Indian Ocean when 16-year-old solo sailor Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in rough seas, a yellow yacht named Wild Eyes has been found floating upside down off the coast of South Australia.
The 40-foot yacht was encrusted with barnacles, the signature eyes on the hull scratched and faded. Its mast snapped off in the wild weather that forced Sunderland’s rescue midway through her world record attempt to be the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe in 2010.
It was spotted from the air by a tuna spotter plane about 12.30pm on Monday, 11 nautical miles from Vivonne Bay on Kangaroo Island. The South Australian police helicopter and two commercial fishing vessels were sent to investigate and identified the yacht.
It had not been seen since Sunderland was picked up and rescued by the French ship Ile de la Reunion on 12 June 2010, midway between Madagascar and Western Australia.
In a blog post written on the Ile de la Reunion hours after she was picked up, Sunderland said: “The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast (short meaning two inch stub.) … am still trying to get over the fact that I will never see my Wild Eyes again.”
A month later, after she had returned home to California, she said it was unlikely the boat would ever be found.
“A lot of people have been asking about Wild Eyes,” she wrote on 5 July, 2010. “She was still afloat when I boarded the Ile de la Reunion. She could end up on a beach in Western Australia at some point, but it’s just a guess, we don’t know for sure.
“She would have to be very lucky to wash up on a beach, and not get smashed on the rocks or something like that. While I do wish that she would be found and fixed up, it’s not all that likely she will be found.”
Sunderland, now 25, set sail from Marina del Rey in California on 23 January in 2010 but had to restart her world record attempt at Cabo San Lucas in Mexico 10 days later due to electrical problems and higher-than-expected fuel and power use from her navigation and communication systems.
Her family had bought the Australian-built Wild Eyes and in October the year before, just months after her elder brother Zach became the first person under the age of 18 to sail solo around the world, with stops and assistance, and kitted it out specifically for her journey.
Sunderland intended to beat her brother’s record and complete a non-stop circumnavigation, but had to stop in Cape Town for repairs in May. She activated her emergency satellite beacons after being tumbled about in 60-knot winds and 50-foot waves about 2,000 miles east of Madagascar.
Her parents were heavily criticised for allowing her to undertake the attempt, and Sunderland in turn criticised the media saying that her age had nothing to do with encountering a storm in the southern ocean, something she said happened to all sailors.
She has not commented on the yacht’s discovery, but her younger brother Toby posted the story on Thursday.
Australian Jessica Watson, who is just five months older than Sunderland, is the youngest person ever to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation and arrived home in Sydney on 15 May 2010, three days before her 17th birthday and six days before Sunderland departed Cape Town.