16-year-old Jessica Watson this week passed her 50th day at sea since her departure from Sydney in her attempt to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world non-stop and unassisted.
Having crossed Doldrums and the equator twice, rounded the Island of Kiribati north of the equator, then plunged south between French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, she is now on about the same parallel as her home port of Mooloolaba in Queensland, and is heading for the Antarctic.
Unlike her predecessor and hero Jesse Martin, Jessica's telecommunications on the boat enable her to communicate with her Public Relations team and her Mum on a daily basis. She also has a lot of virtual company through the goodwill messages from the thousands of people who are now following her journey.
Jessica - 50 solo days at sea but daily communication with home, and hundreds of messages from fans - BW Media
Jessica's journey was known only to Australian sailing enthusiasts before she hit a cargo ship on her first night at sea on her boat Ella's Pink Lady on a voyage from Mooloolaba to Sydney and launched a worldwide media frenzy. The resultant mainstream publicity has attracted an astonishingly large fan club of watchers.
In the meantime, her American counterpart, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland has reached Marina del Rey in her home port of Los Angeles with her new boat 'Wild Eyes' in which she will attempt her own non-stop unassisted circumnavigation in December. As Abby's boat is much faster than Jessica's, and she is a couple of months younger, it will be interesting to see the outcome in this undeclared battle to be the youngest.
Abby’s new Wild Eyes, faster boat, younger sailor - photo by Lisa Gizara - .. .
The voyage of both girls has come under heavy criticism from many quarters, critics contending that 'youngest' records should not exist and the girls should apply themselves to their studies.
The World Speed Sailing Racing Council (WSSRC), who normally keeps a tally of sailing records, recorded Jesse Martin's voyage, but has thereafter refused to acknowledge a 'youngest' category.
In Holland, a third teenager, 14-year-old Laura Dekker was recently prevented from her own 2009 circumnavigation ambitions by a Dutch children's court who are insisting that she finish her school year before departing in 2010.
Laura Dekker's journey ambitions, however, cannot be compared to those of Abby Sunderland and Jessica Watson. Dekker grew up on a sailing boat, has already made a circumnavigation with her parents, and had no desire to complete the journey without stopping. Her ambition much more resembled Zac Sunderland's as a much relaxed cruising journey, stopping for sightseeing and repairs as she went.
Zac briefly became the youngest circumnavigator before British teen sailor Michael Perham, whose attempt to circumnavigate non-stop and unassisted came to nothing because of frequent necessary repairs to his boat, nevertheless completed his journey younger than Zac and currently holds an informal 'youngest' record.
Jessica and Abby will be approaching the most difficult part of their voyage - the rounding of Cape Horn, in the same southern summer of 2009/10, and are likely to be in radio contact.
Watch Sail-World Cruising for regular updates on the two voyages.
................................. Letter from Reader:
> Sender: Ian reid
> Message: could you please tell me why she went so far north and then directly south,all those miles to gain little distance.
> regards, Ian Hi Ian
Good question, and many others are wondering.
Round world racing started in the northern hemisphere, so all racers had to get to the southern hemisphere to sail non-stop round the world. Later, when racers began starting in the southern hemisphere, so that they couldn't have an advantage, the WSSRC (World Sailing Speed Record Council) introduced a rule that you had to cross the equator twice to make your record valid.
The WSSRC is not checking or validating Jessica's journey, but her PR company says that she wants to make it a 'quality' voyage, presumably so that she can been seen to have travelled as far as the liks of Abby Sunderland, who, travelling from California, will have to cross the equator twice. I agree it's all a bit artificial.
Nancy Knudsen, Cruising Editor