Jessica Watson sail solo in search of record

Jessica Watson leaves Sydney Harbour and expects to return in eight months.

Teenage sailor Jessica Watson is alone on the Pacific Ocean after launching her attempt to sail solo around the world.

The 16-year-old slept in her yacht last night to acclimatise and sailed out of Sydney Harbour this morning after an emotional farewell to family.

A siren signalled the official start of Ms Watson's journey, but the teenager's yacht sat for some minutes waiting for a gust of wind to send her off.

She eventually made her way through choppy waves at the mouth of the harbour and out into open ocean, but not before she radioed Harbour Control to say she was underway.

The voice at the other end wished her well, saying: "See you in eight months."

Dozens of spectators watched from the harbour foreshore and the pink yacht was surrounded by up to 50 kayakers and boats filled with supporters and media.

Ms Watson is trying to break Jesse Martin's record as the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe nonstop and unassisted.

Her record-breaking attempt has fuelled debate over whether someone so young should be allowed to make the solo voyage.

Ms Watson has faced several disruptions as she prepared for her voyage.

Last month her yacht collided with a cargo ship off southern Queensland, and last weekend one of her mentors, Andrew Short, was killed in a yachting accident.

Ms Watson's support team says the teenager's location will always be known through GPS tracking on her clothing.

Jessica's mother, Julie, says she will be in contact with her daughter twice a day.

"She's had a fair bit to do over the last couple of weeks down here in Sydney, but nothing new came up so we said... this is the day," Julie Watson said.

"It's been terrific."

Last-minute advice

Meanwhile, adventurer James Castrission, who made history by kayaking across the Tasman Sea, was giving last-minute advice to the teenager.

He says it was a nervous departure for Ms Watson.

"It was quite tense," he said.

"Always with these things, everyone's feeling a little bit edgy, [worrying about] what's going to happen out there, but she's done the work and she's ready to go."

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told Channel Nine that a lot of Australians are nervous for the young sailor.

"If there is one message, it would be keep safe - do everything she needs to do to keep safe," Ms Gillard said.

"If that means that at some point she has got to abandon the journey, then the most important thing here is a young person's life."

UPDATE: 21 OCT 2009

Watson is aboard a 34-foot pink sailboat and might have to negotiate swells taller than her boat is long. She has eight months of sailing ahead of her, and safety is not guaranteed.
But for now it's smooth going. On Tuesday she wrote: "It already feels like I'm settling right into a routine, grabbing a bit of sleep through the night and into the morning when I can, logging and plotting my position, digging through the food bags for meals and calling in for phone skeds twice a day. There's always something to do or check.

"I've been hard at work eating my way through all the last-minute presents and sweets that were shoved aboard just before we left. Every time I think I've eaten them all I seem to discover another packet stashed away somewhere!"

Watson has critics who believe she should not be allowed to attempt this voyage, but many supporters -- Monday's blog post generated more than 700 comments -- are behind her all the way.

UPDATE: 7 MAY 2010

Jessica Watson 'falls short of world record'

Jessica Watson will not have travelled far enough to claim the record for being the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, sailing website Sail-World says.

The website claims the 16-year-old will not have satisfied the World Speed Sailing Record Council's criteria to take the record from fellow Australian Jesse Martin.

"She has simply not gone far enough north of the equator," the site said.

"Look at her track and that of Jesse Martin and you can easily see where his extra thousands of miles were sailed."

According to Sail-World, the WSSRC (the official record body), advised Watson's team before her departure that her route would fall short of the round-the-world minimum distance.

The website says a round-the-world voyage must be at least 21,600 nautical miles, the shortest route around the globe.

It's claimed calculations show Watson will only have travelled 18,265 nautical miles when she sails into Sydney - 2335 nautical miles less than the official distance and 3495 nautical miles less than Jesse Martin's distance.

"As happens in every sailing passage Jessica has not sailed a straight line, she has tacked and gybed and will have no doubt travelled around 23,000 miles according to her log," the website says.

"However that is not the way sailing distances are calculated."

"The different set of distance has popped up because media has been given Jessica's distance sailed by summing distances sailed from sat [sic] tracking or perhaps daily logs, therefore counting every zig and zag across the oceans."

"When Jessica Watson sails into Sydney Harbour next weekend, she will have survived a bruising voyage with bravery and skill, and be on her way to fame and fortune, but she will not have taken Jesse Martin's non-stop unassisted round-the-world record from him."

Watson's manager, Andrew Fraser, has dismissed the claims as "ridiculous".

"This is typical of the sailing blog forums, they've been on the bandwagon for weeks," Mr Fraser told Fairfax. "It's ridiculous."

"The bottom line is, and this is quoted from [the WSSRC], to sail around the world a vessel must start and return from the same point, cross all meridians of longitude and cross the Equator, she's done all of that."
Fraser told Fairfax the WSSRC never intended recognising Watson's record because she was under 18 years of age.

UPDATE 15 MAY 2010

Watson spent seven months at sea

SYDNEY -- An Australian teenager became the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world after a seven-month journey that was completed Saturday.

Jessica Watson, center, was greeted by Australia prime minister Kevin Rudd and a throng of thousands after the 16-year-old docked at Sydney's Opera House.

Thousands cheered as 16-year-old Jessica Watson maneuvered her pink 34-foot yacht into Sydney Harbour, the finale to an adventure in which she overcame 40-foot waves, homesickness and critics who said she'd 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. "She's home."

Watson docked at the city's iconic Opera House, bursting into tears and gasping in relief as she stepped off her yacht and into the arms of her parents. She hung onto her father and brother as she walked slowly and tentatively along a pink carpet rolled out in her honor -- her first steps on land in 210 days.

"People don't think you're capable of these things -- they don't realize what young people, what 16-year-olds and girls are capable of," Watson told the raucous crowd, many wearing pink clothes and waving pink flags in honor of her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady. "It's amazing, when you take away those expectations, what you can do."

Her parents' decision to let their daughter attempt such a feat was highly criticized.

"I don't think any of us would ever doubt Jessica Watson again," said New South Wales state Premier Kristina Keneally, who was waiting at the Opera House to welcome the teen.

"I'm completely overwhelmed. I just don't know what to think and what to say at the moment," 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."

Watson, from Buderim, north of Brisbane in Queensland state, sailed out of Sydney on Oct. 18. She traveled 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.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd greeted Watson at the Opera House with a grin and a hug, dubbing her "Australia's newest hero" -- a description Watson dismissed.

"I'm actually going to disagree with the prime minister," she said, as the crowd laughed. "I don't consider myself a hero. I'm an ordinary girl who believed in her dream."

Australian Jesse Martin held the 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. He boarded Watson's boat and took over as she cruised toward the Opera House, so she could relax and wave to the fans.

Watson's feat, however, will not be considered an official world record, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its "youngest" category.

Though she sailed nearly 23,000 nautical miles, some sailing enthusiasts also have argued that Watson didn't travel far enough north of the equator for her journey to count as a true round-the-world trek as defined by the record council's rules.

Watson's managers have dismissed those claims and argued she doesn't need to adhere to the council's rules anyway, because the council wasn't recognizing her voyage.

The route took Watson through some of the world's most treacherous waters, and the teen made it through monstrous storms and suffered seven knockdowns.


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