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22 October 2009

Young woman and the sea

By Sophie Elmhirst

Jessica Watson’s boat is bright pink. It’s the bubble-gum colour of fun-loving youth – apt for the 16-year-old Watson, who has just embarked on a round-the-world journey aboard Ella’s Pink Lady. Her ambition is to become the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the globe. It will take her, if all goes well, about eight months to cover the 28,000 miles – eight months completely alone on the perilous seas.

There have been mixed reactions in her home country of Australia to her mission. Her state government, Queensland, urged her not to go. And experienced sailors have suggested she doesn’t have enough experience to handle the lonely pressure of a solo voyage. But Watson and her family have defied the naysayers.

Setting off from Sydney Harbour on 18 October, Watson was cheered on by 100 boat crews that congregated to watch her go. On her blog, she admits she felt “a little emotional”, though she was quickly distracted by the lack of wind and the challenge of avoiding busy shipping lanes (last month, she collided with a 63,000-tonne Chinese cargo ship as she sailed towards Sydney).

But by Monday, Watson was revelling in her freedom from the constrictions of teenage life – no deadlines, no rules, “no one to send me off to bed”. It may be eight months alone, but it’s also eight months without homework.

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