WATSON RETURNS HOME

May 17, 2010

Sixteen-year-old Jessica Watson has spent the past seven months in a self-imposed solitary confinement of sorts. For 210 days, the avid sailor skippered her 34-foot yacht, the Pink Lady, around the world, a feat few others, let alone teenagers, have accomplished.

But on Saturday afternoon, her solo trip ended in dramatic fashion as tens of thousands of cheering spectators and hundreds of boats turned out to welcome her home to Australia’s Sydney Harbor. “I haven’t seen a person for almost seven months and suddenly there’s just people everywhere — you know, faces, so much color, so much noise, so much everything,” she told a news conference. “All I’ve seen for so long is empty waves, so it was amazing and very overwhelming. At the same time, I achieved what I set out to.”

That achievement — her team claims she’s the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world — is not without controversy. A storm over whether she’d bested Jesse Martin, a fellow Australian recognized in 1999 as the youngest to make the voyage at 18, came to a head on sailing news websites last week, centering not on her age — nor on whether she circumnavigated the globe — but on whether she had sailed far enough.

Sailing websites such as Sail-World.com reported last week that Watson’s route wasn’t long enough orthodromically — that is, by measuring the shortest distance from point to point on a route — to hit 21,600 nautical miles, the length of the equator. Watson’s team has said she had sailed about 23,000 nautical miles, though it hasn’t claimed the distance is orthodromic. Critics have said her logged distance includes zig-zags that yachts inevitably make, and those zig-zags do not count for orthodromic distance.

The World Sailing Speed Record Council, which certified in 1999 that Martin was the youngest to make the trip, mandates 21,600 orthodromic nautical miles for round-the-world courses. Watson’s team has responded that it wasn’t aiming for any WSSRC record, because the council has stopped recognizing the “youngest” category. — CNN

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