Jessica Watson may be the youngest person to sail around the world solo and unassisted but her next challenge is just three months away when she will compete in the 2011 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race.
Jessica Watson helming Sydney 38 down-wind - Audi Hamilton Island Race Week 2011
The famed Sydney to Hobart Race, held on Boxing Day, is widely considered to be one of the most difficult yacht races in the world and is sure to test her mental and physical strength yet again.
‘It’s certainly going to be very challenging, but that’s going to be quite exciting. It’s a completely different skill set for me to learn, it’s racing - faster sailing, and it’s an intense three days, whereas my voyage was about slow and steady and sticking it out for such a long time.’
Jessica will be accompanied by four girls and six guys in the race, each bringing their own talents to the deck. ‘It’s a really interesting mix of skills we’ve got. Some of them are dinghy sailors and some of them are big boat offshore sailors, so it’s going to take a lot of effort to get us working well together as a team but it’s going to be really fun.’
Jessica said with the males outnumbering the girls the boat is being painted pink to keep the gender diversity intact. ‘The Sydney 38 has just arrived in the marina on the Gold Coast where she’s getting ‘pinkified’. We’re adding a few more pink accessories and some pink scaping and then it should be good. It will definitely be more familiar,’ she laughed.
The young team kicked off their Sydney to Hobart campaign with the Audi Sydney to Gold Coast Race at the start of August, where Jess said they ‘fluked a win’.
‘It was really great. We had a bit of a mixed team on board with our coaches as well, but it went well. Obviously the coaches are now taking a bit of a step back.’
They all recently competed in the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week, which Jess said was also a great training exercise.
Currently the crew is scattered all over the world but will come together again in October, in Sydney, to commence training fulltime up until the event. Jessica said that preparation will involve a range of elements.
‘Training will involve everything from doing the race, a dry run we call it, sailing down to Hobart as if we’re racing and then back again. We will also be sailing against other boats and racing the local races.
'But obviously the safety element and the offshore element is something that we’re going to town on. We’re not ever going to take any shortcuts there,’ she said.
The crew will also be learning each position on the yacht as part of preparation. ‘We’re all swapping around in positions. There’s a few of us girls on board that aren’t particularly big but we’re finding ways to do things. Definitely getting comfortable with every position is something that’s important for us on board, and again it comes down to being a safety issue and good sailing, in that anyone on board can jump into any position,’ Jessica said.
Chris Lewin and Jono Bannister will be the crew’s primary coaches in the lead up to the event. Both are experienced sailors and are also competing.
Jessica said that ‘it’s quite an interesting dynamic’. ‘We have our coaches setting us up to do well and then racing against us, so we’ll see what happens.’
‘I think on Boxing Day, just before the race starts, I’ll certainly be feeling a few nerves. Like everyone you’d be crazy not to. But I think now it’s all about learning as much as possible and doing the hard work to get there, to set ourselves up in the best possible way.’