Teen solo sailor circles the globe

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Jessica Watson made port May 15 in Sydney, Australia, the end of her quest to become the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigator. The Australian, who completed the voyage in 210 days, celebrated her 17th birthday two days later.

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“I ended up crossing the line … to a totally overwhelming welcome, way beyond anything I’d ever imagined,” says Watson in her May 15 blog entry. “Seeing everyone again and finally getting those hugs was really something special.”
Fellow Aussie Jesse Martin and British teen Mike Perham were at the docks for her arrival. Martin holds the record for the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigation, completed in 1999 when he was 18 aboard Lionheart, a Sparkman & Stephens 34.
Perham was recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator with stops. He finished his voyage Aug. 27, 2009, at age 17 aboard TotallyMoney.com, an Open 50.
Watson left Sydney Oct. 18 aboard Ella’s Pink Lady, her Sparkman & Stephens 34, sailing 23,000 nautical miles in an eastward circumnavigation primarily in the Southern Hemisphere and rounding the major capes — the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn and Cape Leeuwin. But her feat won’t be formally recognized by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, and there was doubt about whether Guinness World Records would.
Watson’s route reportedly didn’t take her far enough into the Northern Hemisphere to qualify as a circumnavigation under WSSRC rules. However, the WSSRC wouldn’t have recognized Watson’s feat regardless of the route because she is younger than 18, according to Watson’s team.
“It is very important to note that the World Sailing Speed Record Council does not recognize any voyages from sailors under the age of 18,” Watson’s team states on her Web site. “As a result of the WSSRC decision to discontinue recognition of age-related journeys, there is no official body to recognize Jessica’s feat and, therefore, no official body’s rules that need to be adhered to.”
Watson, however, has stated that the trip was about personal goals, rather than records.
“Yes, it’s a shame that my voyage won’t be recognized by a few organizations because I’m under 18, but it really doesn’t worry me,” says Watson in her May 6 blog post.
New York-based Hatchette Book Group apparently isn’t concerned about formal recognition, either. The company reportedly has offered Watson a deal to publish her blog entries. Watson certainly has enough adventure to fill a book, including an April 24 knockdown on the home stretch in 32-foot seas and 35-knot winds. The young sailor describes the seas as “liquid mountains rolling past with tumbling white tops.”
As much as Watson is pleased to be home with fresh food and a warm, “non-rolling” bed, there are things about the voyage she will miss. “I’m going to miss the kick I get from overcoming challenges by myself, flying along in the dark,” says Watson in her May 13 blog post.
Another sailor vying to become the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigator, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of Marina del Rey, Calif., had to abandon the non-stop aspect of her voyage after her two autopilots malfunctioned. She was forced to stop May 5 in Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs.
Sunderland, who is about seven months younger than Watson, left Marina del Rey Jan. 23 aboard Wild Eyes, her Scott Jutson-designed Open 40. She announced on her blog that her non-stop attempt was officially over, though she plans to continue her voyage. Abby’s older brother, Zac, finished his own solo circumnavigation with stops at age 17 last year.
For information on the two sailors, visit www.jessicawatson.com.au and www.abbysunderland.com.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.