It began with 20 hours of silence. On June 10, 16-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland lost contact with the outside world for nearly a day while her boat, Wild Eyes, was ravaged by a storm in the Indian Ocean, ending her hopes of sailing around the world alone. But when Abby was rescued by a French fishing vessel the next day, the media frenzy was deafening. Headlines shouted the good news, while bloggers offered everything from glowing support to accusations of a Balloon Boy-style hoax.
The Sunderlands were certainly ready for the spotlight. The nine-person clan — dad Laurence is a shipbuilder, mom Marianne is pregnant with their eighth kid — had first courted the press when their eldest, Zac, embarked on a similar voyage at 17. By the time Abby was ready for her trip, the family had lined up a publicist, corporate sponsors, and a website hawking Abby-brand sneakers and T-shirts. A production company had even begun shooting footage of Abby preparing for her journey for a potential documentary. (A rep for the Sunderlands didn’t respond to interview requests.)
So now that they’ve got our attention, what course will the Sunderlands chart? Laurence has said that producers were developing a reality series about his adventurous brood before Abby’s voyage, but Abby’s mother later denied that any project is currently in the works. ”It sounds like a viable show,” says one reality TV exec producer. ”But it’s a delicate balance. Viewers are savvy and skeptical, and they can smell a desire for fame.”
Abby herself has said on her blog that she wants to write a memoir about ”all the good times Wild Eyes and I have had together.” According to one literary agent, that book could be a big success — as long as it has the right message. ”It has to be something inspirational,” he says. ”If it’s an ego-driven project for the family, I don’t think that’s something publishers would want to see.”