I have just arrived back in Australia from the Top of the Gulf Regatta in Thailand to discover that the proprietor of another Australian website has been making claims that Jessica Watson's incredible efforts to sail solo around the world at the age of 16 are invalid.
Jessica and her support team have always known that the journey would not be recognised by the World Speed Sailing Racing Council, the official body for world speed records, because that body has stopped recognising a "youngest" category. The WSSRC took this decision because of a fear that younger and younger sailors would attempt the record, until someone died as a result.
The simple fact of Jessica's journey is that when she sails into Sydney Harbour on Saturday May 15 she will have completed a solo, unassisted around-the-world passage under sail. She will have fulfilled the basic criteria of:
‘To sail around the world, a vessel must start from and return to the same point, must cross all meridians of longitude and must cross the Equator’.
In my opinion, we should be celebrating the incredible efforts of this young girl, not nit-picking over a few miles.
It is pointless, after all, to compare sports performances from different eras. How can we compare Steve Waugh's all-conquering, fully-professional, video-enhanced cricket team with the Bradman-era of amateur sportsmen and uncovered pitches? Neither is better than the other - they were both the stand-out, world champion sides of their day.
Similarly, we can't compare modern blue water sailing, using professional weather routers, GPS and AIS with the journeys of Joshua Slocum (the first man to sail solo around the world in the 1890s when there weren't even charts of most places he visited) or with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's journey (first man to sail non-stop, unassisted) in 1968/69.
When Jessica completes her journey, she will have attracted enormous world-wide interest in sailing. That is a good thing. She will act as an inspiration to other young people to get off their bums and do something special with their lives. That is a great thing.
As I said in a previous post, I was one of the skeptics when Jessica set off, thinking she would pull out at some stage of the journey because it got "too hard". I was obviously judging her by the standards of the young hoons I see hanging around the railway station, not by the extremely high standards she has set for herself.
I have been incredibly impressed with her "can do" attitude. She has faced some enormous seas and some terrible conditions but has always bounced up the next day with a smile on her face and optimism in her daily blogs. Many people have already posted "good on you Jessica" comments to previous stories, so it is obvious that the vast majority of you share this view.
I am bitterly disappointed, therefore, that a member of the Australian sailing media should use Jessica's incredible efforts for a bit of cheap self-promotion.
- Roger McMillan, editor.
FOOTNOTE: More people have climbed Mt Everest than have sailed solo around Cape Horn. It's known as "the sailor's Everest". For that alone a sixteen-year-old deserves huge credit.