16-year old Jessica Watson completed her solo, non-stop, circumnavigation of the globe earlier today, sailing into Sydney Harbor, while hundreds of Australians cheered, and thousands more watched on television. Jessica set out from Sydney last October, and has spent the last seven months navigating the high seas. By returning to the place she started on Saturday, she has become the youngest person to sail alone, unassisted, and without stopping, around the world.
Those seven months at sea offered plenty of challenges for Jessica and her 30-foot ship, the Ella’s Pink Lady. At times she faced massive storms, high winds, and 30-foot swells, as she covered more than 23,000 nautical miles in her journey. Her voyage took her briefly north of the equator before sailing through the treacherous waters around South America’s Cape Horn and Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Even her return home has been a challenging one, with storms near Tasmania slowing her progress and keeping an element of danger even in the final days.
Despite her amazing journey however, there are many who refuse to recognize her claim on the record of the youngest to sail around the world. For instance, the World Sailing Speed Record Council has set a minimum age of 18 as a requirement for a record to be officially recognized. Other long time sailors say that Jessica’s route was not long enough to be officially recognized either, saying that another 2000 miles would need to be added to compare it to similar feats done in the past. To achieve those extra miles, Jess would have had to spend more time in the Northern Hemisphere.
Jessica’s closest competition for the “youngest around” title was American Abby Sunderland, who is also 16-years old, and a few months younger than her Aussie counterpart. Abby was recently forced to pull into shore in Cape Town, South Africa to under go repairs to her ship, and by doing so, she removed the “non-stop” element from her voyage. Abby will continue on her solo sail however, saying she is as determined as ever to finish what she has started.
Regardless of whether or not the accomplishments of these two young women are seen as a record of any kind, their adventurous spirits are something to be recognized and celebrated. Congratulations to Jessica for her amazing accomplishment, and good luck to Abby on the rest of her journey as well.