Best of ExplorersWeb 2010 Awards: Teen solo sail around the southern hemisphere

Posted: Dec 28, 2010 02:00 am EST

She wanted the world to know exactly what 'little girls' and young people are actually capable of. Alone at sea for over 200 days, Jessica Watson brought buckets of courage, self reliance and honesty to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.

It all started with the boys. Two years ago, at a blushing 16-years-old, Mike Perham (UK) and Zac Sunderland (USA) set out to sail around the world. They both made it, turning 17 at sea. Now the girls wanted in. Except they'd kick it up a bit. Where the lads had stopped en route for fixes, they would go non-stop.

In US, Zac's sister Abby Sunderland was getting ready to fly her sails; across the globe in Australia, Jessica Watson was equally ready to go.

Jessica: "I want the world to know exactly what 'little girls' are actually capable of!"

Tales of wandering kids are easy to find from way back in history to this day. Forced by war or famine, or driven by ambition for a better life, young people have roamed the globe since the beginning of time; and some still do.

One tough cookie read the T-shirt; a present from her Mum in the food bag Jessica opened after four consecutive knockdowns in gale force winds. Although 18 is the World Speed Sailing Record Councils minimum age to become a world record holder, Australian Jessica Watson wanted to do it at 16.

She explained why she wanted to achieve this goal at a this young age, For almost 6 years my family lived on our motor boat traveling and based at different marinas on the east coast of Australia. When you live on the water, it's sort of like an unwritten law that when another boat is pulling in, you stop to give a hand and take their lines.

But being a 'little girl' meant that more often than not, my offer of help would be completely ignored, while the line was passed to the fully grown man next to me.

So yes, stated Jessica, I hope that part of what I'm doing out here is proving that we shouldn't judge by appearance and our own expectations. I want the world to know exactly what 'little girls' and young people are actually capable of!

The nay-sayers

When prosperity flourishes, security becomes an all-important issue. With televised role models such as Paris Hilton, Jersey Shores and the Kardashians, the world woke up to the young adventurers' project with reserved awe: They were too young. Too inexperienced. Their parents were irresponsible. It was just a media stunt - just like the balloon boy in Denver.

Jessica kept out of the debate. We made the decision a long time ago that I was going and the only thing left to do was prepare properly and make it safe, she dryly replied.

Jessica about schoolwork onboard: "can't say I stuck with it for very long.

Ellas Pink Lady, a S&S; 34, left Sydney Harbor and Jessica settled into a routine; grabbing a bit of sleep through the night and into the morning when she could, logging and plotting her position, digging through the food bags for meals and calling in for scheduled phone twice a day, pouring over charts and forecasts, doing maintenance. There's always something to do or check, she reported.

In between the 16-year-old had to fit in some schoolwork and reported about one of her efforts, This afternoon particularly was a little un-exciting, just rolling around not going anywhere in the heat. I started on a bit of schoolwork this morning, thinking that if I couldn't be achieving forward progress, at least I could be achieving something. But I can't say I stuck with it for very long.

Jessica about courage: if you don't have it, fake it!

Jessicas action plan for rounding the notorious Cape Horn was to stay calm and confident. If I can't manage that, then I will fake it and just pretend to be!

She encountered 40-knot winds blowing straight from Antarctica, mist, drizzle and a bumpy four meter sea. The night she approached Cape Horn was a busy and sleepless one. To ensure that we didn't just go surfing by in the dark, I put a bit of effort into slowing us down and just as it was getting light, there it was - the distinctive outline of Cape Horn!


Six weeks later Jessica experienced four consecutive knockdowns in gale force winds. She recorded 65 knots winds before losing the wind instruments in another knockdown.

The second knockdown was the most severe with the mast being pushed 180 degrees into the water. Actually pushed isn't the right word, Jessica stated, It would be more accurate to say that Ella's Pink Lady was picked up, thrown down a wave, then forced under a mountain of breaking water and violently turned upside down.

When assessing the damage, down below the cabin was a total disaster zone.

Jessica reflected, It was a little hard at times to maintain my positive and rational thoughts policy, but overall I think I can say that the skipper held up as well as Ella's Pink Lady. It was certainly one of those times when you start questioning exactly why you're doing this, but at no point could I not answer my own question with a long list of reasons why the tough times like that aren't totally worth it!

The last days

The last days in her home waters were hard on Jessica. A bad gust in choppy seas ended up with her reefing in the cockpit, double clipped on of course, water flowing into her boat and a badly torn mainsail.

But Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney harbor 210 days after she set sail from there. The 16-year old showing the world exactly, "what a little girl is capable of."

The aftermath

Out of the two boys and two girls, Abby was the less lucky one. On the notorious Indian Ocean, she broke her mast. This was exactly what the old Captains had been waiting for. One news anchor, himself owner of a large crewed ship, led the disgruntled outcry. See? See? Told ya!

Nobody cared to check the statistics of broken masts at sea: common among long-distance sailors in oceans less violent than the Indian. And few reflected on the difference between a voyage sailed by a crew versus a single sailor.

Jessica in turn did not fulfill the criteria for a record-breaking journey as set out by World Sailing Speed Record Council (she had covered 2,335 nm less than the official round the world distance). But she never intended to claim it and checked all the other boxes: Start from and return to the same point, cross all meridians of longitude and cross the Equator entering into the Northern Hemisphere at least once and round the southern landmarks of South America and South Africa. The correct term for Jessica's sail is "around the southern hemisphere."

"I wanted to inspire people"

While people around the world judged the teens by their own lives; the teens showed by their sails a different set of values and motivations.

I'm going to miss the kick I get from overcoming challenges by myself, flying alone in the dark,"Jessica said at closing in to harbor.

And to the why question that adventurers always get, Jessica simply said:

I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something to be proud of. And yes, I wanted to inspire people. I hate that so many dreams never actually become anything more than that, a dream.

We will remember Jessica Watson and the other teen sailors for the courage, determination, self reliance and honesty they brought to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.

Born on May 18, 1993 on Australias Gold Coast; on October 19, 2009 16-year old Jessica Watson set sail from Sydney Harbor passing the official start line of her around the world journey at Sydney Heads. She returned May 15, 2010, three days before her 17th birthday.

Jessicas goal was to sail single-handed around the world non-stop, unassisted. Previously two teenage boys Mike Perham (UK) and Zac Sunderland (USA) sailed around the world assisted, making several stops. They were 16 when they started their voyages and turned 17 during their trips. Zac turned 17 on November 29, 2008 and Mike turned 17 on March 16, 2009.

Mike stayed further out to sea, whereas Zac stayed closer to shore. Zac Sunderland departed on his yacht from Marina del Rey, California on 14 June 2008 and arrived back 13 months later on July 16, 2009. Mike Perham left from Portsmouths Gunwharf Quays on November 15, 2008 and crossed his finish line on 27 August 2009.

According to the WSSCR Rules, Jesse Martin holds the non-stop, unassisted, single-handed round-world record, which he achieved in 1999 two months after his 18th birthday.

Previous Awards in 2010

5. Teen solo world circumnavigation, Jessica Watson
6. Indian Ocean row, Erden Eruc
7. Himalayan Knights, Joao GarcĂ­a and Piotr Pustelnik
8. North Pole circumnavigation, Peter 1st and Northern Passage

Special mentions:
Dan Darley and Amelia Russell; North Pole unsupported
Ed Stafford (and Cho); Amazon from source to sea
Valery Rozov; Antarctica BASE jump
Jean-Louis Etienne; North Pole crossing in a rozière balloon.
Special climbs: Denis Urubko's Lhotse, Basque traverse on Broad Peak, Ukraine nMakalu, Ralf and Gerlinde's Everest, Eric Larsen's Everest, Chad Kellogg on Aconcagua.

We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2010. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.

And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in 2010.

By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:

- Courage
- Determination
- Persistence
- Self reliance
- Ingenuity
- Pioneering
- Idealism
- Comradeship
- Compassion
- Respect towards competition
- Honesty

#Oceans #topstory

Jessicas very cool new T-shirt was a present from her Mum in the food bag she opened after the four knockdowns.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
[Being knocked down] was certainly one of those times when you start questioning exactly why you're doing this, but at no point could I not answer my own question with a long list of reasons why the tough times like that aren't totally worth it!
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Jessica fitting the blades to the new wind generator.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
The traditional dunking of salt water of any first time equator crossing, can't say it was all that bad!
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
The chart plotter behind me showing our position under Cape Agulhas and the Cape set on desktop as the screensaver.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
The big swell during the second last week, with the drogue trailing behind Ella's Pink Lady, shaking off one wave with the next 10m monster coming up behind.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Doing some schoolwork on a calmer sea.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Kneading bread in her open air galley at sunset.
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
One of my favorite meals, the tinned and dried version of nachos!
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Th rest of the crew (click to enlarge)
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Jessica viewing Ellas Pink Lady from the top of her mast (click to enlarge)
Image by Jessica Watson, SOURCE
Jessica Watson's route.
courtesy Jessica Watson, SOURCE

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