Jessica Watson, 2011 Young Australian of the Year and certainly Australia’s most famous sailing teenager made world headlines when she successfully sailed solo through the Southern Ocean and around the globe when still just 16.
She returned to a hero's welcome and a movie star existence in Australia where she is feted and adored by the Australian public - even those who don't sail.
This week she was at the ADCO Etchells Australasian Winter Championship speaking to sailors and sponsor and we took the opportunity to catch up with the busy 19 year old.
Jessica began by explaining ‘Last year as Young Australian of the Year, I saw a lot of Australia. We did schools tours all over the country and it was a pretty chock-a-block year.
‘The best bit is the people you get to meet. Spending time with people like Simon McKeon, the Australian of the Year, he is an amazing guy and sailor and does so much for the community. Meeting people like that in every state and all over the place and particularly the young people was really, really cool.
‘Spending time all around Australia you discover just how many interesting people are out there in lots of fields but in sailing too. There are little yacht clubs around Australia and I was recently in Launceston, Tasmanian with all the kids, Optimist sailors, a huge horde of them and that was incredible. To discover amazing clubs all around Australia has been really great.
‘In such an intense program you do learn a lot about yourself. I think the big thing I took away from it was that I love sailing and I love what I am doing now but I also realised that I loved working with schools and working with different organizations. That’s why I am doing a university course with youth work/social work areas in mind.
‘It’s all about taking on challenges. I have written a book and I still can’t spell to save my life, and dancing, I am un-coordinated as all hell and I still got, in a few weeks, up to some kind of speed. (reference to Jessica’s recent appearance in a reality television dancing show.)
‘It’s just the same message. You don’t have to be anyone special to do something in particular - you know just give it a shot. It is going to take hard work and that is a key, really, to everything in life.
‘In the same vein last year we set ourselves another challenge, which was the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
‘We did the full dry run to Hobart in advance, which was really, really worthwhile not just to tick off safety boxes, do a few sea miles and for the relevant qualifying but because we actually ended up with pretty much exactly the same conditions as in the race. It worked out to be ideal, which was purely a coincidence.
‘We did three months full time training and we sailed down to Hobart and spent a week there chatting to locals, sailing the Derwent river and things like that.
‘We ticked every box. There was a mixture of sailing skills on board and there were some very good sailors but we were all new to the boat and sailing with each other. It was just straight out hard yards – but that meant we placed well in the race.
‘When I was a little kid I wanted to be a ship’s captain but I decided it is better as a sport than as a full time occupation. This year I have taken a bit of a land change but it will be back to sailing soon I hope.
‘I have started Uni which is exciting. I am studying sociology, part time to fit it in, with the plan of heading into youth work and social work areas. Open Uni is so flexible and online makes it easier. There’s lots of reading and I am absolutely loving it.
‘I have sailed since I was eleven, so I did something ‘girly’ for once.
‘I have been doing Dancing with the Stars for the last few months, which has been quite an experience. It was completely out of my comfort zone. A high heeled challenge, which has been hard. It was just one of those things I wanted to give a go. The last few months have been extraordinarily busy, at least it was physical because otherwise I would not have had time for a single bit of exercise.
‘Now it is over, it’s the final week next week I am looking ahead and to the rest of the season of sailing.
‘I am looking forward to having weekends back so I can go out sailing. I haven’t been out on the water in a while and it has been driving me nuts.
‘As well as Hamilton Island Race Week, I am keen to sail at Airlie Beach Race Week this year and so will see what else comes up for a small (48kg) crew member.
‘This weekend though I’ll be watching the Etchells out the window while I am studying.’
by ADCO Etchells Australasian Winters media - 4:52 AM Sat 9 Jun 2012 GMT
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2012 ADCO Etchells Australasian Winter Championship
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