16-year-old Australian begins solo round-the-world yacht voyage

Published on The Guardian, by Peter Walker, Oct. 18, 2009.

A 16-year-old Australian girl sailed her yacht out of Sydney harbour today, beginning an attempt to become the youngest person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe unassisted, despite concerns over her age and expertise.

If all goes to plan, Jessica Watson will spend the next eight months alone on board her 10-metre vessel, Ella’s Pink Lady, navigating 28,000 miles through some of the world’s most dangerous seas.

Around 100 boats congregated under grey skies in the harbour to see her off. Watson did not speak to reporters before she left, but her mother, Julie, posted an update on the solo sailor’s blog. “I know you are all anxious to hear from Jess, but she’s a little preoccupied on her first day, so she asked me to post a quick note to let everyone know that the departure went well this morning,” she wrote … 

… “I think a lot of Australians are nervous for Jessica. I’m nervous for her,” the country’s deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, told Nine Network TV. “But my words at this stage, given that she’s determined to go, would be to wish her the best of luck and to urge her to keep safe.”

A British 17-year-old, Mike Perham, became the youngest solo round-the-world sailor in August following a nine-month voyage, although a stop for repairs en route meant his trip did not count as unassisted. The youngest sailor to complete the voyage unassisted is another Australian, Jesse Martin, who was 18 when he completed it in 1999.

In August a Dutch court ordered that a 13-year-old girl, Laura Dekker, should be put into state care following plans for her to attempt a solo round-the-world sailing. (full tect).

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