A 16-Year-Old Girl Is Sailing The World Solo. Brave Or Stupid?

Sydney Harbor Bridge from Bennelong Point
Image via Wikipedia

And — she’s off, in a 34-foot pink yacht.

Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian, has begun a 23,600 mile journey, alone. She left Sydney harbor Sunday hoping to become the world’s youngest sailor to complete the voyage.

Not sure why the yacht had to be pink, as the deadly and inevitable icebergs and swells and gales she’ll face won’t care if she’s a boy or a girl. Solo sailing is no joke, and the bravest and best-prepared of professionals have met their watery graves in such endeavors. Frenchwoman Isabelle Autissier, who is 53, twice escaped death in icy Antarctic waters as she soloed in professional races.

There was much controversy recently when a 13-year-old Dutch girl, Laura Dekker, was halted from her hopes of doing a solo circumnavigation, even removing her from her parents’ sole custody.

I covered professional sail racing for several years for The New York Times and others. I traveled to Sydney and Auckland to interview pro women sailors competing in the Volvo Round the World Race (then called the Whitbread) and quickly saw the very real, very serious risks women undertake when they pit themselves against the elements, certainly alone and in the most vicious conditions. I even dreamed of one day competing aboard such a boat.

Then the vessel I was focusing on, an all-female crew, lost its mast and rigging en-route north from Auckland and had to make an emergency stop in Ushuaia, a remote part of Argentina. They, at least, had quick, ready, multi-million-dollar sponsored access to help.

I’m all for women making and breaking the toughest of athletic and adventure records. We’ll see how far Watson’s pink boat carries her. I certainly wish her the best.

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