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Jessica Watson at Cape Agulhas, Abby Sunderland over the equator

by Nancy Knudsen on 24 Feb 2010
Jessica’s happily hand steering as she enters the Indian Ocean SW
Latest Photos from the ocean: Teen solo sailors Jessica Watson and Abby Sunderland have each reached a milestone in their voyages this week. Jessica has reached the most southerly point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, and is crossing into the Indian Ocean. Abby has crossed into the Southern Hemisphere..

Jessica was happy to have marked off another Cape and to have arrived into her last ocean, and the ocean that laps the western shores of her own country. In the meantime, far behind, Abby delightedly reported her own crossing of the equator.

Jessica has been blessed with good conditions so far as she heads into the Indian Ocean, but this ocean is known for its ugly gales, so Jessica is again expected to veer north for a while before she is obliged to turn south to clear the southern coast of Australia.

While Abby is having trouble with light winds or no wind at all because she is in the general region of 'no wind' around the equator, Jessica has been moving nicely with a high pressure system passing over her at the moment.

Both girls are doing well, with good conditions and no major problems. Abby's wind is expected to pick up as she moves gradually south, and her Open 40 Wild Eyes will start to show its better speed potential.

About the Voyages:

Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson set out to be the youngest sailor to circle the world solo, non-stop and unassisted. She comes from a sailing family and, as a child, lived cruising on a motor yacht for some years. She is sailing a Sparksman & Stephens 34, painted lolly pink and called Ella's Pink Lady, which was donated by solo circumnavigator Don McIntyre. It is also the same model of boat which successfully carried fellow Australian teenagers David Dicks and Jesse Martin (who still holds the non-stop record for the youngest circumnavigator) in their own world circumnavigations.

Jessica made world headlines when she collided with a cargo ship on her first night at sea sailing her hew boat, and was forced to delay her start while the boat was repaired.

Californian 16-year-old Abigail (Abby) Sunderland has also set out to be the youngest sailor to circle the world solo, non-stop and unassisted. She is the younger sister of Zac Sunderland, who himself completed a cruising journey a couple of years ago to become the youngest circumnavigator, only to be eclipsed by British teenager Mike Perham a some months later.

Abby comes from a sailing family, and her father is a boat builder. She is sailing an Open 40, a stylishly fast racing boat, which her family bought and readied quickly for her much delayed start from Marina del Ray in Los Angeles. Only a week into her voyage she was obliged to abort the trip and head for Cabo San Lucas on the Mexican coast for repairs and upgrade of her charging system. She then restarted her attempt from that port.

While the two girls claim they are colleagues and not competitors and are buoyed by the other's journey, the watching sailing world will see it, at the very least, as an inadvertent competition.

Abby is 154 days younger than Jessica, but started 111 days later, still giving her a 43 day advantage. While Jessica, in an boat considerably smaller and slower, must complete her journey in 212 days to reach home before her 17th birthday on 18th May, which she has stated as an intention, it gives Abby, in a faster more slippery boat, a full 255 days to complete her journey to become the youngest solo non-stop circumnavigator.

Both girls have attracted their share of controversy. Those who applaud their journeys generally point to inspiration, freedom, and the honouring of the abilities of the young. Those who are against their journeys have generally wondered whether they were encouraged too sharply by over-ambitious parents, and whether they should be in school at this age.

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