AP Photo/Rick Rycroft
Teenage sailor Jessica Watson walks to
her boat after her final shower on land as
she prepares to depart Sydney, Australia,
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009.

Australian Teen Hopes to Break Record as Youngest Around-the-World Sailor

October 20, 2009 06:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As 16-year-old Jessica Watson sets off on a sailing voyage around the world, some question whether such an adventure is suitable for someone so young.

Watson Sets Off After Crash

On Saturday, Jessica Watson set off from Sydney Harbor on a mission to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, Christine Kellett reports for The Sydney Morning Herald. Seventeen-year-old Mike Perham, from the U.K., holds the current record.

According to Watson’s official Web site, her “non-stop, unassisted” trip around the world is set to follow a “route that is a traditionally recognised path and distance for ‘around the world sailors.’” The route includes important landmarks such as “the southern tips of the American and African continents, as well as some of the most challenging oceans a sailor will ever face.” Watson says the journey comprises an approximate distance of 23,000 nautical miles.

Watson’s voyage has been met with skepticism and worry that someone so young should attempt such a dangerous feat alone. During a practice run in early September, the teen and her plastic 34-foot yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, collided with sea freighter Silver Yang, Kellett explains. Watson, who had been napping, did not see the approaching ship. After this mishap, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommended that Watson “visit fatigue-management experts in an effort to help her better manage her sleep patterns on the solo journey.”

As lead investigator Peter Foley told The Sydney Morning Herald, Watson is sailing with very high-quality equipment, which was nevertheless revised and improved before her worldwide journey. “She's got a very well-equipped vessel, and the radar system, no, we're not concerned about the adequacy,” he said.

Opinion & Analysis: Role model or daredevil?

For many, Watson is a very positive role model for youngsters around the world. Watson’s endeavor, which The Courier-Mail describes as “combining a spirited heart and a sense of adventure with a level head,” projects the ideals of strength and determination, and provides a positive example for other teenagers.

Safety investigators, on the other hand, wonder whether it is indeed safe for Watson to set out alone on an eight-month journey considering her youth, and question the potentially reckless example she might project to other teens. As The Courier-Mail notes, Australians “are also worried that Jessica and those around her have allowed her determination to make a mark on the world cloud her better judgment.” Given the public nature of her adventure, it is to be expected that “while her successes would be celebrated, her every mistake and mishap will be magnified.”

Watson’s friends and family, however, are confident about the success of her endeavor, and “insist she is an experienced and capable sailor who has studied navigation, electronics and maritime safety procedures,” the Daily Telegraph reports. They also note that, even though Watson will be sailing unassisted, she will be “in constant contact with her support team via radio, email and a blog.”

Related Topic: 13-year-old sailor stopped by court

In August, a Dutch court stopped 13-year-old Laura Dekker from pursuing her dream of becoming the youngest sailor to complete a voyage around the world, a trip that would last two years. Due to her youth, and the fact that such a long trip at her age would be “damaging at an important time in her development,” the court banned her journey, putting her into state care and recommending psychological evaluations, Hannah Kuchler reports for the Guardian.

Although Dekker’s father, with whom she lives, encouraged the adventure, Babs Muller, her mother, strongly opposed the idea of her daughter’s voyage. In an August interview with the Volkskrant, Muller argued that even though Laura might have the technical ability to complete the voyage, she is not yet mature enough to endure the “psychological challenges of two years of being on her own,” the Associated Press reports.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines