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Three countries in Search and Rescue for Abby Sunderland

by Nancy Knudsen on 11 Jun 2010
Approximate last known position of Abby Sunderland SW
Three countries are searching for ways to assist Abby Sunderland who was trying to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world. Her manual EPIRB and personal locator beacons have activated in the Southern Ocean. The American, French and Australian Search and Rescue authorities are cooperating to find the closest ships to Abby's last known location.

Australian Search and Rescue authorities have already launched an aircraft heading to her last known position.

As Abby's automatic, water-activated EPIRB has not sounded an alarm as yet, this indicates that the EPIRB has not been submerged and Wild Eyes is still afloat. As long as this automatic EPIRB is operative and not damaged, this points to the possibility that Abby has been hurt or that the boat is sufficiently damaged in some way that she can no longer sail it. It is not at all likely that Abby has gone overboard as reported in some of the world's press, as she would have been unable to activate her alarm. One of the alarms was attached to her survival suit, normally used when in the water or in a life raft.

Last know position was reported as Latitude -34.885931, Longitude 74.53125

Latest word from Team Abby is that the boat is drifting backwards at around 1 knot. This indicates that no sails are active and that the yacht is not in an upright position, as it would be drifting at a faster rate in a normal sailing position without sails. If the keel has snapped off, then there would be a good air pocket under the yacht for Abby to wait for rescue.

Abby was 20 days into her leg from Capetown to Cape Leeuwin on the south west tip of Australia, and her last known position was to the north east of the Kerguelen Archipelago, owned by France. A French fishing vessel from the Archipelago has been diverted to her position, but is not expected to arrive for many hours.

Abby's team always knew that the section of water she must pass through after passing the Kerguelens was to be a rough one, as between 80 and 100E, tropical storms moving south easterly can sometimes merge with a cold front, causing a monster low.

Before the alarms went off, Abby had been knocked down several times in the latest systems passing over her. The forecast winds of 60 knots had eventuated, but the winds had subsided to around 35 knots.

A Qantas airbus is to overfly the location to try to make contact via VHF radio or satellite phone.

Her family, brother Zac, father Lawrence and mother Julianne, have been typically cool about the situation, with these assurances: 'Abby has all of the equipment on board to survive a crisis situation like this. She 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.

'Wild Eyes is designed for travel in the Southern Ocean and is equipped with 5 air-tight bulkheads to keep her buoyant in the event of major hull damage. It is built to Category 0 standards and is designed to self-right in the event of capsize.'

The boat is an Open 40, a 12.9 metre racing boat, specifically designed for single-handed sailing in the Southern Ocean. It was chosen by Abby and her advisers because 'it has the benefit of both speed and safety necessary to navigate the conditions that Abby will experience.'

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