She doesn't consider herself a hero, but Jessica Watson can certainly be considered a role model for young girls looking to aspire to something big. Watson returned to her home in Sydney during the weekend, after becoming the youngest person to sail nonstop, unassisted around the world. The Australian 16-year-old did it all by herself, on her 40-foot pink yacht, Ella's Pink Lady.
All kinds of Australian officials were on hand, including Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, and Kristina Keneally, the Premier of New South Wales (Jessica's home state). A flotilla of small craft escorted Ella's Pink Lady into Sydney Harbor, and Jessica took her first steps on land in 210 days, wobbling a bit as she waved to the large crowd of thousands gathered around the Sydney Opera House to welcome her home.
She began the odyssey on October 12, 2009, by sailing northeast from Sydney, through the South Pacific and across the equator. She traveled south to Cape Horn, around the tip of South America, and across the Atlantic Ocean so South Africa, powering through the Indian Ocean and then around southern Australia back to Sydney. Along the way, she kept her family, friends, and the rest of the world up-to-date by writing a blog. Among her favorite topics was her friendship with a small brown bird, which arrived on the yacht one day and stayed for several more before departing for another destination.
She also made use of ultra-modern technology, including a satellite phone and the Voice over Internet application Skype (the video version). More evidence of the modern age could be found in a video that she shot herself of her dumping a symbolic bucket of saltwater over her head as she crossed the Equator.
A few people had voiced opposition to Jessica's sailing by herself around the world. But her parents, especially her mother, Julie, insisted throughout the journey that Jessica, who had been sailing since she was 8, was prepared enough and supported enough from afar. Jessica herself made clear in her post-arrival remarks that she wanted her story to be a message to young girls that expectations don't always equal results. She said she was used to having people doubt her abilities, especially because she was a girl.
Did the 40-foot waves leave her seasick? Yes, she said. Was she homesick during her trip of 23,000 nautical miles? Naturally, she said. Did the torn sail worry her? Of course, she said, although it didn't tear until she was almost home.
Would she do it again? Yes, she said, just not right away. Her next big adventure, now that she is turning 17, is learning to drive. (A local TV station has paid for 10 free driving lessons.)