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Lies, Damn Lies, and PR Spin

by Bob Fisher on 7 May 2010
Bob Fisher .. .
I stand in awe at the achievement of Jessica Watson. That one so young has had the fortitude to withstand the elements of the oceans alone and unaided for the 200 plus-day duration of a voyage through some of the most hostile waters on the planet, should be more than enough to warrant our appreciation of her seamanship and raw guts. This is no easy voyage. It is one whose demands would leave the majority of us carefully looking the other way and making excuses as we exited stage left.

It has been a truly wondrous performance by this Australian teenager, who will sail into Sydney Harbour to complete her loop. It has been a sailing performance par excellence, one of which she can be justifiably proud and we should applaud it for what it is, and not for what it is not.

It might seem at this time of rejoicing, harsh to point out that Jessica has not sailed a course that is approved by the World Sailing Speed Record Council, the international body that approves world records, as it did in the case of Jesse Martin.

Rules must be observed in sporting challenges and there are few greater than the circumnavigation of the globe under sail, let alone as an unaided single-hander. Jesse did and sailed more than the required 21,600 miles, but, under the WSSR rules, Jessica has not. She cannot therefore claim to have beaten Jesse’s record, as her publicist insists.

There never has been a better example of the vast difference between fact and public relations perspective than this. It is an almost unfathomable chasm. On the one hand, the facts are indisputable, while on the other those facts interfere with the public relations objective.

Distortion is the name of the game, and all in pursuit of large swathes of cash. There are concerns that truth is being sacrificed on the altar of Mammon by the actions of Andrew Fraser of 5 Oceans Media.

One outstanding example is that while there is extensive questioning of the performance claims across the broad spectrum of the media, there is a total absence of these from any of News Limited’s outlets – print or television – perhaps because the Murdoch empire has a reported A$700,000 investment in her exclusive story.

The indisputable facts that have been carefully calculated would indicate that all the requirements of a genuine round-the-world record passage have NOT been met.

True, Jessica has sailed alone and unassisted, passed under the four required capes, but the orthodromic route she has taken does not total the necessary 21,600 miles that is equivalent of the girth of the Earth at the equator.

And that, Andrew Fraser, is a requirement for the world record you were claiming for Jessica, and which would put her in line to beat Jesse Martin’s record.

One must compare apples with apples – Jesse did conform to all the requirements - and no matter whether Mr. Fraser determines that the WSSR will not recognise Jessica’s performance because she is under eighteen years of age, on good authority he would be informed that the Council would not recognise it if she were over the age of majority because she hasn’t sailed the length of course demanded.

It is Fraser’s sparing use of the truth which is staggering. This is presumably because he seeks to further improve Jessica’s deeds. That is something he hardly needs to do.

She is far braver and more accomplished than any girl of her age and that perhaps is what should be stressed, not that she is beating Jesse Martin’s record, because she is not going to do that.

Maybe the fault was that of her team, which failed to calculate the distance she would sail on her proposed route before she set off.

Had it done so, it would have been easy to insert a waypoint in the Pacific that she could use and exceed the required distance, but her team failed to observe that requirement. It seemed to conclude that going above the equator would suffice.

Ever since which, Fraser has been on the back foot and fighting hard to correct this basic error by tweaking her blog, which throughout has been two or more days behind actuality – maybe Fraser has been re-writing it.

They are generally impeccably written; not something one might expect from a sixteen-year old under the stress of sailing alone around the world. They are in contrast to her latest blog, no doubt inspired by the goading of Fraser.

It reads:

'I don't normally bother addressing critics because someone's always going to be saying something, no matter what I say or do. But I thought I'd have my 2 bobs worth on these claims that I haven't 'officially' sailed around the world.

'Call me immature but I've actually been having a bit of a giggle over the whole thing. If I haven't been sailing around the world, then it beats me what I've been doing out here all this time! 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.

'I mean there's millions, properly billions of people who still don't believe in global warming, so I'm more than happy to settle for a few people going against the tide and declaring that mine hasn't been an official circumnavigation. Well I think I've wasted more than enough time on the whole petty debate - so moving on!'

Look at this carefully and it is easy to see where it deviates from the previously 'impeccable' style. Deliberate?
Very possibly.

Jessica, please understand that no one is any way deprecating your achievement, apart maybe your publicist by continuously contributing untruths to the media.

We are not as stupid as he would assume. He was repeatedly telling the media that you are to better Jesse Martin’s record when he knows full well that you are not.

He tells us that you have sailed more than 23,000 miles when the only evidence for this is from your logged miles and not, as required in any record attempt, between waypoints that you have passed during the voyage. None of this does anything to enhance your stunning performance – you would be better off without him.

Most certainly the world’s media would be.

On that day when you enter Sydney Harbour, two days before your seventeenth birthday, the world’s eyes will be upon you and, I am assured, Jesse will be there to meet you – that’s the sailor and sportsman that he is. Enjoy the day, there will probably never be one to match it. Milk it for all it’s worth. Yours is a very special effort and you deserve the adulation that you will receive. I can only add mine to all the congratulations you will receive.



Bob Fisher is the author of 32 books, he is a regular contributor to and columnist for many international newspapers, magazines and websites. His specialist areas are Round the World Sailing, the America's Cup and Olympic sailing.
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