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Teenage global sailor Jessica Watson completes her solo-circumnavigation, becoming youngest to do so

May 14, 2010 | 10:47 pm

Jessica Watson, 16, works with the rigging as she sails past the finish line at the entrance to Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia, capping off a nearly 23,000 nautical miles voyage. Watson crossed the finish line of her round-the-world journey, becoming the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world.

Global sailor Jessica Watson took her first steps on terra firma at Australia's Sydney Harbor on Saturday (Friday evening in the U.S.), completing her solo-circumnavigation odyssey at the same place she left seven months ago.

Amid an estimated crowd of 50,000 cheering, pink-flag waving fans and well-wishers, the 16-year-old Australian stepped off her 34-foot pink sailboat, Ella's Pink Lady, for the first time in 210 days.

After crossing the finish line at Sydney Heads, Watson was joined on board by fellow round-the-world sailors Jesse Martin, who in 1999 became the youngest to sail solo around the world unassisted, and Mike Perham, currently the youngest to sail solo around the world assisted, and made her way down the harbor, docking at the Man O' War jetty on the eastern side of Sydney Opera House. 

On hand to greet Watson were her parents, relatives, friends, sponsors and her shore team, along with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally.

Her last day at sea was not exactly smooth sailing -- winds forecast at up to 45 knots made for choppy conditions on the final stretch for Watson.

It’s not the first time Watson has battled the elements during her 23,000 nautical mile voyage. She faced 40-foot waves, lightning storms and gale-force winds during her journey, which took her northeast through the South Pacific and across the equator, south to Cape Horn at South America's tip, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, through the Indian Ocean and finally around Southern Australia.

Watson has also endured controversy and critics from start to finish.

Her parents were harshly criticized for letting their daughter go off alone on such a potentially dangerous journey.

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, so Watson, while becoming the youngest person to have sailed around the world, alone and unassisted, without stopping, will set no official record.

And, about a week and a half before the end of her journey, some in the sailing world came forward to claim that Watson has not sailed far enough to meet the criteria required for an around-the-world voyage.

Watson, though, has completed a journey-of-a-lifetime, and accomplished a remarkable achievement she will never forget, and for that she deserves to be celebrated. Congratulations are in order for Jessica Watson, for achieving her goal of sailing around the world nonstop, solo and unassisted, before her 17th birthday. There likely aren't many who recognize their dreams at any age, let alone that young.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Jessica Watson, 16, works with the rigging as she sails past the finish line at the entrance to Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia, capping off a nearly 23,000-nautical-miles voyage. Watson crossed the finish line of her round-the-world journey, becoming the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted, around the world. Credit: Rob Griffith / Associated Press

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