Jessica Watson, 16, Youngest Person to Sail Around the World Solo

by Carlo Alcos Jun 12, 2009
Jessica Watson:

All photos courtesy of Jessica Watson

There’s ambition, and then there’s Ambition. Jessica Watson has the latter.

In 1999, fellow Australian Jesse Martin successfully completed a solo sailing trip around the planet. In doing so he became the youngest ever to circumnavigate the globe unassisted. This September, 16-year-old Jessica Watson sets off with a goal that might take that distinction away from him.

Dreaming about this since age 11

If you read comments left by readers of articles written about Jessica you’d think this was a controversial event. Her parents are getting attacked; people are questioning their decision to let her attempt this. Julie Watson, Jessica’s mum, has this response:

“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.”

There’s no question she’s not your average teenager. She’s been sailing and racing dinghies since she was eight and has been dreaming about the solo trip since age 11. Fueling her fire are other inspiring sailors like Kay Cottee — the first woman solo-sailor around the world — and Jesse Martin.

When it comes down to it, there’s no way you can prepare yourself in your head for eight months alone…the only way to find out is to get out there and do it.

To prepare herself mentally for the epic voyage, she’s reading books by people who’ve done this and how they coped. In addition, she’s talking to a sports psychologist and will also have access to the Internet and a webcam. She admits these technological advances might make it a bit easier for herself compared to previous sailors.

As far as physical preparations go, she says she’s “learning a lot about the word compromise; everything’s a compromise, weight and performance versus comfort, power and communication.”

Jessica and her yacht
Ending up where she started

Making sure to follow the rules of a true circumnavigation, Jessica’s route has her starting in Brisbane, then sailing northeast across the equator to Washington Island in the North Pacific, around Cape Horn below South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean and finally up the east coast of Australia back to Brisbane. This plan covers around 23,000 nautical miles and will take approximately 230 days.

Her choice of transport is the S&S 34, a 34-foot yacht made famous by Jon Sanders, David Dicks and Jesse Martin after their history-making solo circumnavigations.

A few words with Jessica

Recently, Jessica was kind enough to take a few minutes out of her ridiculously busy schedule to chat with me over the phone and answer a few questions for our Matador readers:

Q. Many young travelers have a hard time convincing mom and dad to let them go on their first big trip, especially by themselves. When you decided that you wanted to try to break the record, how did your parents react when you first told them?

Yeah, mum and I had a laugh at this question. It definitely took some time. 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.

Q. Do you have any tips on the young travelers out there trying to get their parents’ blessings?

That they do anything possible to show them how determined, and how perfect and organized you’re going to make it.

Q. Can you describe the feeling you get when you’re out in the water?

It’s definitely something special. Yesterday I skippered the boat for the first time by myself. It was only a couple hours and was only motoring, but it is something very special…when you’re by yourself everything is more exciting. You see it in a different way, I suppose. It’s really cool.

Q. There must be a lot of things that are out of your control when you’re at sea. How do you handle that?

I never used to be very confident, I suppose, and when everything’s out of your control and you don’t know what you’re doing, when you’re not confident, then it’s scary. So, you do absolutely everything that you can and then you rely on the boat looking after you, and if you have confidence in the boat, then it isn’t some terrifying kind of feeling.

It’s not possible to be overconfident when you’re trying to do something like this, but you know, anything can come at you at any time, so you gotta be confident and constantly ready for anything.

Q. I understand you’re not allowed to take on any supplies or food during your attempt. How do you do that for your estimated 230 days out there?

Yeah, it’s really careful planning because obviously it’s really important not to forget anything and you know, you get help, and you get the right advice, and you put it all together. So a lot of what I’ll be eating is freeze dried and a bit of tin and a bit of everything. So it’s just really careful planning and coordination.

Jessica Watson

Q. How do you prepare for the isolation and the unexpected?

You do what you can. You talk to the right people and you get all the advice and you can do your practice runs and all that. But when it comes down to it, there’s no way you can prepare yourself in your head for eight months alone. There’s no test for that.

How you’re gonna handle yourself after two weeks just doesn’t compare to eight months, so the only way to find out is to get out there and do it.

Q. You’re also a member and active supporter of OceansWatch. Can you talk about the importance of this, especially in the difficult times many are experiencing these days?

It’s important, and especially for sailors and yachtees, that we all do our part…and I think that that’s what they’re [OceansWatch] all about. It’s just everyone doing a little bit of what they can and chipping in. That’s how it happens.

Keeping up with the progress

Jessica is managing to find some spare moments to keep a blog up to date, talking about the preparations and what she’s going through as the departure date grows nearer. Visit her at and wish her the best.


Youngest Round
Mooloolaba’s Jessica dreaming of the open sea
Sailing solo around the world non-stop at 15


If you’re keen on setting sail yourself, check out Buy a Boat and Learn to Sail: 5 Lessons for the Perfect Lifestyle.

Jessica may not need a crew on this trip, but others do. Read up on How to Travel the World By Crewing On Yachts.

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