Sunderland yacht drifts closer to Kangaroo Island shore

The abandoned yacht “Wild Eyes” was sighted again two days ago by commercial fishermen much closer to the shores of Kangaroo Island.

The yacht was spotted about two kilometres off Cape Kersaint, just west of Vivonne Bay, by local commercial rock lobster fisherman Ben Tyley on the weekend.

Ben’s father Lance Tyley also said a representative from Abby Sunderland’s family had also been making extensive inquiries to local commercial fishing and charter operators about getting the vessel salvaged.

“It would be very difficult operation to recover and tow her anywhere and we are all so busy, any of us would want to get paid for the job,” Mr Tyley said.

Rock lobster and southern bluefin tuna fishing operators meanwhile want to the yacht removed from their fishing grounds as they say it is a navigation hazard. 

The overturned vessel captured the world’s attention after it was found off the coast of Kangaroo Island on New Year's Eve and identified as the “Wild Eyes” by SA Police Water Operations Unit.

The vessel was spotted from the air by a tuna spotting plane about 11 nautical miles south of Vivonne Bay about 12.30pm on Monday, December 31.  

The police helicopter (PolAir) was sent to investigate, along with two tuna industry vessels operating nearby.

American River Volunteer Marine Radio operator Carol Miell as well as local Kangaroo Island Police and Australian Volunteer Coast Guard were also involved in the initial attempts to identify the vessel.

“After we heard that it was a vessel about 30-foot long, my immediate thoughts was that it was a round-the-world solo yacht,” Mrs Miell said. “I knew the only larger boats operating down there are our cray fishing boys and the tuna boats and it wasn’t one of them.”

She thought it could have been one of many round-the-world yachts that had been dis-masted over the years, including the Golden Globe race.

YACHT SIGHTING: The last sighting of the yacht Wild Eyes 2km off Cape Kersaint, just west of Vivonne Bay on the South Coast of KI.

YACHT SIGHTING: The last sighting of the yacht Wild Eyes 2km off Cape Kersaint, just west of Vivonne Bay on the South Coast of KI.

The boat was indeed subsequently identified as the “Wild Eyes”, which had been abandoned eight years ago in the middle of the Indian Ocean during a round the world voyage.

On 10 June 2010, the "Wild Eyes" was dis-masted in rough seas halfway between the Western Australian coast and Africa in the Indian Ocean while American Abby Sunderland was attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo.  

A rescue was coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and she was eventually rescued by a French commercial fishing vessel on June 12.

Contrary to some media reports, the yacht was the right way round when it was abandoned.

“It must have lost its keel somewhere along the way, so it’s been through some gnarly stuff,” Mrs Miell said.

While commercial fisherman just want the yacht removed, Mrs Miell suggested it be towed back to American River and placed on permanent display on the foreshore as a tourist attraction.

Mr Tyley said the yacht could very well find its way onto the rocks of the rugged shore and be smashed to pieces, or find its way out into the current and be washed out to sea again.

Yacht background

The family of an American girl, who abandoned a bid to sail solo around the world after being dis-masted and capsized in 2010, hopes to recover the sloop which has turned up off the South Australian coast.

Wild Eyes, which was piloted by then 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, was identified on Wednesday as the boat spotted off Kangaroo Island on New Year's Eve.

Its hull is now covered in barnacles but still bears its distinctive large painted eyes and yellow colouring.

Sunderland had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean in June, 2010 after suffering a series of knockdowns in high winds about 3200 kilometres off the Western Australian coast.

She had begun her circumnavigation in January that year from Marina del Rey in California, attempting to become the youngest person to complete the journey solo, non-stop and unassisted.

But she was forced to stop soon after in Mexico because of problems with her solar panels and other issues.

She began a second attempt at the journey in February but was forced to stop again in March, this time at Cape Town in South Africa because of more mechanical issues.

Sunderland announced she would continue, but the attempt would no longer be non-stop.

However, on June 10 Wild Eyes was overturned and she was forced to set off two emergency beacons.

A major search and rescue operation was launched with a French fishing vessel eventually coming to her aid.

Neil Mercer, who represented Sunderland after the rescue, described her attempted circumnavigation as a "brave quest".

He said while he no longer represented the family, he had been in contact with her father Laurence.

"He indicated that he and the Sunderland family are keen to come to Australia to reclaim the yacht, and that they are currently trying to arrange funding for this trip," Mr Mercer said. – AAP