Australian teen completes round-the-world sail
After seven months at sea, an Australian teen crossed the finish line of a round-the-world journey this morning in her pink yacht, becoming the youngest sailor to circle the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted. Thousands of spectators erupted into cheers as 16-year-old Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour, the finale to an epic adventure in which she battled 40-foot (12-metre) waves, homesickness and critics who said she would never make it home alive.
"She said she'd sail around the world, and she has," a tearful Julie Watson said as she watched her grinning daughter cruise past the finish line from a nearby boat. "She's home." Ms Watson gasped, laughed and waved her arms frantically as she caught sight of her parents when they pulled alongside her 34-foot (10-metre) yacht, Ella's Pink Lady. The teen was set to touch land for the first time in 210 days by docking at the city's iconic Opera House, where she will be greeted by throngs of fans, the Prime Minister and her family.
"I'm completely overwhelmed. I just don't know what to think and what to say at the moment," Ms Watson said, her voice trembling, in an interview broadcast live on a screen outside the Opera House. "It's all a bit much but absolutely amazing." Ms Watson, from Buderim, north of Brisbane in Queensland state, sailed out of Sydney on October 18 despite fierce criticism of her parents, whose decision to let their daughter attempt such a feat was seen by some as an act of insanity. Through it all, they stood by their opinion that she was well-prepared, and noted that she has been sailing since she was eight.
"I don't think any of us would ever doubt Jessica Watson again," said the New South Wales premier Kristina Keneally, who was waiting at the Opera House to welcome the teen. Ms Watson travelled northeast through the South Pacific and across the equator, south to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, through the Indian Ocean and around southern Australia. Australian Jesse Martin holds the current record for the youngest person to sail around the world solo, nonstop and unassisted, after he completed the journey in 1999 at the age of 18.
Mr Martin boarded Ms Watson's boat to take over during her cruise toward the Opera House, so she could relax and wave to the fans - many wearing pink clothes and waving pink flags in honour of her yacht's colour. Ms Watson was given a goodie bag that included a can of whipped cream, which she partially injected into her mouth before laughing and turning away from the cameras. She was also joined on board by Britain's Mike Perham, who completed a solo circumnavigation at the age of 17 in 2009, though technical problems forced him to stop for assistance.
Ms Watson's feat, however, will not be considered an official world record, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its "youngest" category. And though she sailed nearly 23,000 nautical miles, some sailing enthusiasts have also argued that Ms Watson did not travel far enough north of the equator for her journey to count as a true round-the-world sail as defined by the record council's rules. Ms Watson's managers have dismissed those claims and argued she does not need to adhere to the council's rules anyway, since they will not be recognising her voyage.
The route took Ms Watson through some of the world's most treacherous waters, and the teen battled through monstrous storms and suffered seven knockdowns. But her journey was also peppered with moments of beauty. On her blog, she described stunning sunrises over glassy seas, the excitement of spotting a blue whale and the dazzling, eerie sight of a shooting star racing across the night sky above her boat.
She also had fun, chatting about boys and fashion with "Silly", a little brown seabird that landed on her yacht and hung around for awhile. She sang at the top of her lungs with no audience to critique her and indulged her sweet tooth with chocolate cupcakes she baked in her tiny kitchen. A video she shot shows her giggling while dumping a ceremonial bucket of saltwater over her head after crossing the equator. jessicawatson.com.au
Published: May 15, 2010 04:00 AM