Just 15 years old, Jessica Watson is already at home with the ocean.
A sailor since the age of eight, the Buderim, Australia resident has thoroughly explored the waters around her native country and out into the South Pacific, in part as a spokesperson for the environmental group Oceans Watch.
None of this has made Watson a household name above Down Under, but that will change in September, when she attempts to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world unaided. The journey is scheduled to start just after her 16th birthday.
She plans to start in Brisbane, sail northeast to Washington Island in the north Pacific, around Cape Horn, below South Africa, and then back to Brisbane via Australia’s east coast. The 23,000 nautical-mile trip will be accomplished, she hopes, in a 34-foot yacht, the S&S 34.
This was the same type of boat 18-year-old Jesse Martin used to establish the current “youngest” circumnavigation record.
According to her Website, “Jessica wants to show that even the most gentle among us can achieve great things, and with the support and determination of those around us, achieve our dreams.”
Of course, that support didn’t come easily. At an age when most teen-agers are trying to convince their parents to let them stay out past midnight, Watson had to convince her worried mom and dad that she would be OK out on the ocean for 230 days.
“It definitely took some time,” Watson told matadorsports.com. “My mum came on board when she saw how determined I was and my dad only came on board quite recently, when he saw how much support we were receiving, and how determined we all were.”
Said Julie Watson, Jessica’s Mom: “A lot of people say, ‘How ridiculous, she is 15.’ But I would say if they had a daughter like mine they would let her go. She instills confidence in you.”
The idea took hold for Jessica five years ago. In the meantime, she has hired a sports psychologist and become an admirer of both Jesse Martin and Kay Cottee, the first female circumnavigator.
Watson will have Internet access on her trip, but will not be allowed to take on any supplies or food.
“Everything’s a compromise,” she said, “weight and performance versus comfort, power and communication.”
The S&S 34 is a popular ocean-going boat known for its toughness and seaworthiness. It has been a fixture in the Sydney to Hobart race.
“You do absolutely everything you can,” Watson said of her upcoming adventure, “and then you rely on the boat looking after you. If you have confidence in the boat, then it isn’t some terrifying kind of feeling.”
Watson even plans to continue her distance learning by studying on board.