16-Year-Old World-Circling Solo Sailor Lost at Sea

Even for sailors with decades of experience, the ocean can be daunting. Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old Californian attempting to circle the globe by herself, took the challenge head-on, but as of this morning she's missing in the Indian Ocean. UPDATE.

Abby set off from California in her 40-foot boat on January 23 with the aim of continuously sailing around the world. Technical problems have caught her up twice thus far, but this morning, after a day of sailing through a rough storm, she activated her on-board distress beacons. No one's been able to contact her since.

She's in an extremely remote part of the Indian Ocean, roughly 2000 miles east of Madagascar and 2000 miles west of Australia. CNN reports that the nearest vessel, a private fishing boat, is some 40 hours away.

On Abby's blog, which she's diligently updated throughout her journey, she chronicled yesterday's rough weather:

The last few days have pretty busy out here. I've been in some rough weather for awhile with winds steady at 40-45 knots with higher gusts. With that front passing, the conditions were lighter today. It was a nice day today with some lighter winds which gave me a chance to patch everything up. Wild Eyes was great through everything but after a day with over 50 knots at times, I had quite a bit of work to do....

My Thrane & Thrane (Internet) system is down again so I am not able to send in my blog. The problem seems a bit more serious than the last few times I have had trouble with it. There is something wrong with the terminal at the back. It is possible that water got inside of it because it has a rough ride back there the past few days with waves crashing right over it. Unfortunately, if that is the problem I probably won't be able to fix it. At least I still have my Iridium phones so I can still call in to my mom and read her my bog for her to post.

In a more recent update, her parents explain that they are working with several nations' authorities to divert a boat to find her (an air rescue is difficult because of how remote her location is). The parents say that she has everything she needs on board for an emergency survival situation—"a dry suit, survival suit, life raft, and ditch bag with emergency supplies"—and seem optimistic that she's hanging on, waiting for help.

16-Year-Old World-Circling Solo Sailor Lost at Sea

The ocean has always attracted adventurers, and Abby Sunderland is one of them, without a doubt. Though this distressing turn will likely provoke some people to admonish Abby's parents for letting her embark on the journey in the first place, they'll be wrong to do so. Abby's safely steered her ship for 4 months already, showing an ability and passion that few of us will ever know in our own lives. Hopefully we'll make it there soon to help her out. [CNN]

UPDATE: Abby has been found alive and well, with an Australian chartered airline making contact with her early this morning.