What does a person do next when you have broken a world sailing record before you're old enough to drive a car? Australian sailor Jessica Watson became a household name for a while when Australians, sailors and non-sailors alike, went crazy with delight about the fact that she sailed around the world solo and non-stop before her 17th Birthday. Now, just over four years later, it's a very different story.
Jessica on her S&S 34, Ella’’s Pink Lady
Australia clapped and screamed their joy as Jessica kept a very patient Prime Minister waiting for three hours as she came through the Heads of Sydney Harbour in May 2010 to become the youngest ever to achieve such a feat. They cheered as she was made Young Australian of the Year in 2011 then awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia a year later. For a few months the paparazzi followed her every move, and she made the headlines wherever she turned up.
Ms Watson continued to add to her list of sailing accolades following the around the world trip when she joined a young crew of nine in the 2011 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. They were the youngest sailors ever to complete the blue water classic.
She was also the first female skipper to cross the line in the race that year, which earned her the annual Jane Tate Memorial Trophy and she also took up a role as ambassador with the United Nations World Food Program.
Now, it couldn't be more different. When she turned up to enroll in a university course in youth and social work, she observed, 'pretty sure no one has recognised me, touch wood.'
While she began studying in 2012, this is the first year that she has braved actually attending campus, having taken previous studies online. This would have been easy for Jessica, who, being dyslectic, had been schooled by her mother for much of her school life.
The daily grind of her university degree seems rather tame after seven months of surviving storms, loneliness and several knockdowns in her Sparksman & Stephens 34, Ella's Pink Lady, as well as having to grapple with navigation and multiple repairs.
But for now, it's a quiet life, and it appears that that's the way Jessica likes it.
For the record:
The Guinness Book of Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council do not recognise 'Youngest' in sailing, on the grounds of not encouraging irresponsibility in younger and younger sailors taking to the water.
Two years after Jessica's feat an even younger Dutch/New Zealand sailor, Laura Dekker eclipsed Jessica's 'youngest' record. However, her voyage took a couple of years with many stops, so Jessica's 'non-stop' record still stands today.