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Global sailor Jessica Watson may set no record, but she will still achieve her dream

May 5, 2010 |  7:19 am

16-year-old Jessica Watson on her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, in May, 2009. Watson left Sydney, Australia, October 18, 2009 on her non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation.

Australian teenager Jessica Watson is less than two weeks from completing her quest to solo-circumnavigate the globe. When the 16-year-old arrives at Sydney Harbor on the recently announced date of  May 15 and disembarks Ella's Pink Lady at the Sydney Opera House, she will become the youngest person to have sailed around the world, alone and unassisted, without stopping.

She will, however, be setting no record.

The World Speed Sailing Racing Council, the international sailing body that monitors around-the-world-sailing record attempts, no longer assesses claims for the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

Some go a step further, claiming that Watson has not sailed far enough to meet the criteria required for an around-the-world voyage.

Rob Kothe, SailWorld.com editor, told Australia's Nine News that "questions had been asked what record she was going for," saying that sailing experts had long known that the route in question would not qualify as a full circumnavigation.

An article on the website states that Watson will fall about 2,000 nautical miles short of her goal, because she did not sail far enough north of the equator. The racing council world-record course rules for offshore yachts of any size state that the shortest orthodromic track of the vessel must be at least 21,600 nautical miles.

According to Sail World, when Watson finishes, she likely will have traveled a course of around 23,000 nautical miles, according to her log. But as happens in every sailing passage, Jessica has not sailed a straight line, instead zigging and zagging her way across the oceans, adding mileage that shouldn't be included (nautical mileage is published according to the straight-line distances and does not include the tacks or gybes that a vessel might make).

Corresponding to the great-circle calculations carried out by one of Australian leading offshore navigators, and cross-checked by a number of others, Watson has traveled 18,265 nautical miles orthodromic distance (or 19,631 rhumb line distance), which adds up to 2,335 nautical miles less than the official circumnavigation distance.

Word of this has, of course, reached Watson's team. Spokesman Andrew Fraser has posted a formal response to the claims on Watson's website, excerpted here:

The facts are as follows.

Jessica has sailed a southern hemisphere solo circumnavigation. There are some basic key requirements that she must adhere to.

'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'.

Jessica has ticked all of these boxes.

Jessica has sailed the most challenging and treacherous oceans of the world, passing the four capes (Cape Horn, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin and the Cape of SE Tasmania) and crossed the Equator twice. She has sailed around the world, non-stop, solo, unassisted and when she completes the voyage, she will be the youngest to have done that, sailing almost 23,000 nautical miles in the process. We have official TracPlus data to confirm Jessica’s exact distance upon her return, which currently sits at 22,336 nautical miles.

Watson and her team have long known that there is no longer a record -- the racing council stopped recognizing claims for the youngest in any area of sailing, so the record will forever belong to fellow Australian Jesse Martin, who in 1999 became the youngest to sail solo around the world unassisted.

Both Jesse Martin and Britain's Mike Perham, currently the youngest to sail around the world solo, assisted, will be at the finish line in Sydney to congratulate Watson when she arrives after almost seven months at sea (Watson left Sydney, Australia, on Oct. 18, 2009).

Watson will achieve her goal of sailing around the world nonstop, solo and unassisted before her 17th birthday, and that can never be taken away from her. There likely aren't many who achieve their dreams, especially not at 16.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: 16-year-old Jessica Watson on her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, in May 2009. Watson left Sydney, Australia,  on Oct. 18, 2009, on her nonstop, unassisted circumnavigation. Credit: Eddie Safarik / AFP/Getty Images

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