Thursday, June 10, 2010

Abby Sunderland Feared Lost at Sea

For those of you who don't know her, Abby Sunderland is a 16 year old American trying to break the record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe - solo.  She is also the sister of Zac Sunderland (see a post about him I wrote here), who set the record (for a brief time) in 2009.  A rescue effort has just been launched to find her after she set of her emergency distress signals some time this morning.

"Sunderland apparently signaled emergency beacon locating (EPIRB) devices on Thursday after losing contact over satellite phone with her family." (LA Now, June 10)

As a sailor who knows exactly how serious setting off your EPIRB is - this news resonates through my entire body like a direct hit to a funny bone.  A million things are going through my head.  As I sit here, at my desk, listening to music, snacking on gummy bears, there is a 16 year old girl somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in 25 foot seas, with winds reaching an excess of 50 knots, alone, probably terrified, and most likely - fighting for her life.  The nearest ship that has been diverted to rescue her is 40 hours away.  A lot can happen in 40 hours.

I don't mean to be dramatic or bleak - and I am hoping and praying for Abby - but I also can grasp the seriousness of a situation like this.  Finding a boat in the middle of the Ocean can be a lot like finding a needle in a haystack.  Luckily, with modern technology and equipment like the EPIRB (which is, essentially, a distress signal and transmitter device used to aid in the rescue of ships and planes) this once virtually impossible task has been made possible.  However, there are parts of the worlds oceans that are as remote as the moon in terms of the potential of anyone getting to you.  Planes are useless for ocean rescue, helicopters are limited to coastal rescues, and unless there is (by chance) a ship passing nearby, timely rescue is unlikely.

What makes this news even more heart wrenching (and what I shudder to type) is the simple, obvious truth that this could happen to us.  This is the kind of thought that really makes you take a slow, deep breath.  This is the kind of thought that makes you take a good, hard look at what you are doing and give it a healthy dose of respect.  We all know how precious and fleeting life is.  We are all reminded that none of our tomorrows are guaranteed.  For some of us, however, this is precisely why we go to sea - to seize and realize our dreams.  It's exactly why Abby is out there.

Abby has a fantastic team behind her and has been trained in all aspects of crisis at sea.  I have no doubt that every effort will be made to bring her home safely.  In the meantime, I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.

Brittany & Scott

POSTSCRIPT 6/11/2010: Abby Sunderland is alive and well!  Her boat has been spotted by a plane and while her boat has been dismasted, she is fine and awaiting rescue from the ship that has been diverted to her.  This is fantastic news and a very happy ending to what could have been a very tragic story.  You can read more about Abby on her blog here.


Mid-Life Cruising! said...

How terrible! I'm familiar with Abby, but had not heard this yet. I hope this has a happy ending. Ken and I plan on being "coastal" cruisers, and this is part of the reason why we've made that decision. I can't wait to sail, but I don't want to be 40 hours away from help. But, everything in life comes with its risks. We'll keep her in our prayers, and thanks for letting us know.

Lisa Hanneman said...

I have written and erased about seven comments. There is nothing I can say. You can read my mind.

Anonymous said...

Great post you hit the nail right on the head with that one. Reality can be a real B

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Don't know much, but heard this morning that Abby has been found and is okay! So glad to hear it. Could have been much worse ending.

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