Jessica Watson is a sixteen year old girl who recently completed an amazing solo sail around the world. Her circumnavigation was accomplished without stopping at all. Only a few days ago I was able to speak to Jessica and ask her some questions about her adventure, future plans, and of course simplicity.
What impressed me most about Jessica is her humble attitude, despite having just finished such an amazing journey and being the youngest to do it.
There has been controversy surrounding her voyage, particularly because she is so young. Some say she shouldn’t have been allowed to go. Some insist one does not have the maturity to handle such a challenge at 16. Being a schoolteacher, I would agree. In most cases. However, if there is a 16 year old that is up for the challenge, its Jessica. It’s first evident in her book True Spirit, then evident again in our conversation.
JUNE 20, 2013 UPDATE:
I just learned that filmmakers are planning to make a film out of Jessica Watson’s book True Spirit. Great! I love sailing films and there should be more of them. Jessica’s story is one to make headlines and a film about, but her book isn’t. I hope the film shows more heart than the book. What did you think of the book?
Below you’ll find a bit of our conversation:
T: Congratulations, Jessica, on your sail. Its such a big adventure and a big challenge and I think that’s such an accomplishment at sixteen. I’ve been a sailor for quite a long time and although I’ve been offshore, I haven’t undertaken something quite that big. So, congratulations its excellent.
J: Yes. Thank you very much.
T: I know your busy, so I’ll just ask you a few questions. Pink Lady is ten and a quarter meters in length overall. Could you envision yourself living on a boat like this permanently when you become an adult?
J: Yea, I suppose so. Yea. (giggle)
T: Do you feel that living in a small space like that has taught you lessons that you could apply to your life back home?
J: Yea, definitely. I’m mean it’s living on a boat. Living in a small space. You know, things like not wasting water. Just really simple things like that. It makes you appreciate.
T: I read you book True Spirit. You speak about how being a small girl comes with some frustrating stereotypes that people think maybe you aren’t strong enough to be a sailor. I can understand that, I’ve experienced that too. But then on the other hand you’ve painted your boat pink and name her, “Pink Lady” which is very distinctive, and…
J: I think that’s the exact reason why we’ve painted her pink because we wanted it to be this cute little boat and it’s incredibly tough. Ready to take on the world at the same time.
T: I agree and I think that’s a great reason. What were you motives for writing the book True Spirit, and will there be another book?
J: I love writing. I really love writing, but I think it’s kind of like a book that inspired me to sail around the world, Jesse Martin’s book which I really, really enjoyed. The publishing company actually came on board as a sponsor, so it was really incredible. I was actually writing it while I was out there. I just really enjoyed it. The main thing is, I hope people take away from the book is they can share the voyage with me.
T: Were there certain items like a memento from home that, although not necessary, you simply did not want to leave behind?
J: Yea, there were lots of little things. I had lots of little trinkets and good luck charms, my stuffed toys, and that sort of thing on board. So all that came with me.
T: Did the importance that you placed on these items change over the course of your sail?
J: They reminded me of home, so that’s important.
T: I read about your dismasting, it’s a very unfortunate situation and I’m sorry about that. But I think its great that you continued on with the voyage.
J: Well, I got an incredible amount of support after the collision saying, “You should keep going, its what you want.” It never even crossed my mind that I wouldn’t keep going. It shouldn’t have happened but it did and its amazing it happened before I left because it gave me a little more confidence.
T: Before the dismasting you mention in your book that you had an AIS and a radar, and you set an alarm just before going to sleep. And I was wondering what was the alarm for, and how, with all those safety electronics, did the ship approach without being noticed by you?
J: Yea, that is a good question. What exactly went wrong? You know I did have equipment on board and when it comes down to it, strangely, in fact it’s the same thing the report shows, that you don’t know why this happened. And you can actually find the full report which is great and really fair on the website.
T: Speaking of technology, which is of great interest to me as a sailor and finding the right balance of technology on board.What piece of technology on board Pink Lady was vital or got the most use and which one could you have done without?
J: I think the satellite phone got a pretty good workout. It’s an important bit of technology. And, what could I have done without? Um, yea, good question. I guess, same again. I could have done without that as well. As much as that phone was great, I could have done without it. The same with the GPS. Before I left I learned to use a sextant but I got out there and I just used the electronics.
T: Did you ever try your sextant while you were out there?
J: No I didn’t actually get it out and have a play with it. But you know, it was more a safety backup than anything. Its really great to have all the instruments. But you come to rely on it, obviously, a bit as well. And as much as the communication that was occurring was really great, I did have these days, I certainly had my days when I just did not feel like talking on the satellite phone. Its not that I was in a mood or anything. Its that I just didn’t feel like talking.
T: Were you able to speak to someone every day?
J: Yea, I was speaking to home and all my team every day, checking in. I also had my tracking equipment and they were able to follow my position constantly.
T: Do you think you’ll ever sail around the work non-stop again?
J: I’d love too. I would definitely love to do it a lot faster one day. And I would like to do it where I stop. But I definitely want to sail again.
T: Where would be a destination you would want to stop at?
J: Where wouldn’t be? I would love to cruise Patagonia and see that part of the world.
Check back again soon for a review of True Spirit by Jessica Watson.
Very nice chat you two had. I was glad to see that you asked questions that the mainstream reporters never seem to get at like what equipment did she feel she needed and what was nice but not nessessary. From following her blog and the interviews after her trip, you can tell that while she may be famous, she has retained who she is. Her family and her dreams remain important to her. She has just added driving and public appearances to her list now. Should be interesting when she adds guys to that list as well. I don’t think many could keep up 🙂
I agree with Douglas. Nice interview & questions.
Interesting the way in which she dodged the question about the collision. It would be good to see a link to the report, as when it happened, she acknowleged when asked specific questions by the media (by the nature of her response) that she had clearly breached international maritme law and had missused her AIS in a shipping lane. Yet at the same time refused any responsibility for the accident. It is actions such as hers that lead to unneccessary restrictions and expense being placed on sailers, and particularly solo sailers.
At the time that she was imbarking on her adventure, a celebrity manager pointed out that she would never be short of money for the rest of her life, if she made it round. I wonder if she ever did offer any compensation to the shipping company, who would have been exposed to a huge expense, by the delay caused, by the collision. I think it unlikely.
I think Jessica did a-ok answering all the questions. Being in the spotlight like this is a tough position and that was a tough question that I asked her. She did say that the report was “great and really fair.” I don’t think thats dodging the question.
I did not get the impression that she breached any laws or caused the shipping company a huge expense. I really cannot make assumptions like that. I’ve witnessed, been involved in, and heard about collisions and groundings and accidents at sea. What I do know is that there are so many factors, so many layers, that its hard to really pinpoint the blame.
I used to get frustrated at sailors who caused problems, but now I really try to just be understanding. I do believe that even the best sailors will have accidents. The strength is in how we handle them. Jessica picked herself back up, motored home, and set sail again to finish her solo non-stop circumnavigation. I wonder if I would do the same.
I would love to go out for a sail with her. I think she and I will have very different styles and I would be interested in taking her aboard Daphne, and then sailing with her aboard Pink Lady. I think we would both learn a lot!
I have followed Jessicas voyage since she first started her blog before the trip began. One thing I have never read in her blog from beginning to end is one instance of her blaming anyone else when there was a problem. Here is the preliminary report link if you care to read it http://www.atsb.gov.au/media/739587/mo2009008_prelim.pdf . Jessica posted the link on her own website. There was not an attempt to hide or “Dodge” the mistakes made. Here is the final report http://www.atsb.gov.au/media/1539485/mo-2009-008.pdf I hope reading these helps you understand this incident.
Just wanted to add a point here. If you are sailing solo, and you leave the controls at any time, there are people out there who will say that you are in violation of maritime law. You are not visually, or manually checking for dangers and maintaining control of your vessel. You must, at some point, make a judgement of what the conditions of both the boat and the surrounding enviroment are. Then you decide if they are sufficiantly safe to carry out the activity which requires you to leave the controls and remove yourself from watch. Wether this is 5 minutes to use the head, 15 minutes to fix a meal, or 15 or 20 minutes to take a nap you must determine if it is safe enough at that time. There are windvanes and autopilots for ship controll. There is radar and other systems for collision avoidance. The person sailing solo must determine what they consider safe enough. And, if you are wrong, there is a price to pay. As long as people sail solo, they will be making these desisions. Want to make solo sailing against the law? I hope not.
One other point I wanted to make on the post by Nomad. According to maratime law, it is the responsibility of powered vessels to make way for sailing vessels. In practice, the sailing vessels usualy are the ones to make way or it is both they and the powered ship acting together avoiding collisions and close calls. The Cargo ship is required by law to stop and access wether the other vessel is in need of assistance. They failed to do so for about 25 minutes. It is law that in the event of a collision that the person acting as master of the ship notify the actual master of the ship as to the collision. This was also not done for 25 minutes. The radio calls from Jessicas boat were ignored till the actual ship master became aware of what had happened and had his radio operator respond. I ask you, you still think this collision was Jessicas fault alone? The problems that could be fixed were addressed, the information and training needed were also addressed. Then she started her trip.
BTW, I looked on the web after Abby Sunderlands trip was ended to see what was said about Zac Sunderland and Jessi Martin before they made their trips. I could find only a little discussion about wether they were able or old enough to make their trips. The differences in their ages and the girls ages is 1 to 2 years. Why do you suppose that was the case? I think Jessica has it right when asked about wether Abby Sunderland and Laura Dekker should have been allowed to make their trips. She said that she was not sure how much experience they had or what planning had gone into their trips so she couldn’t really commen on wether they should or should not make the trips. That sounds like a good idea to me. Check on the facts first then make a decision. Sorry to run on about this, but I hate uninformed comments. One commentor about Abby said she should be playing with Barbie dolls and checking out boys, not sailing a boat anywhere.
Very interesting interview, Teresa. I really can’t believe she sailed around the world without stopping at her age. I would love to read more about her experiences and the voyage. Thanks for sharing the interview.
Great interview! What a great opportunity you were given to speak with her. I’m glad you asked her why she painted her boat pink- interesting response. Job well done to both you and Jessica!
I agree. She had a great reason for painting her boat pink. I’ve wished I could change all of Daphne’s canvass to purple!
A pink boat to circumnavigate the planet certainly makes “girly” seem very tough!! And us ladies can be feminine and tough. We should hold on to both qualities, they are important!
My husband and co-skipper Bill and I are sailing around the world (we are just about to start our 3rd leg on November 1st – Cape Town to Trinidad.) I love emphasizing that I am feminine and yet tough, so though our topsides are not pink (Bill might have had a problem with that) I do my watches wearing a bikini or sundress. Oh, and we do use GPS and Navionics for navigating but both of us take noon sights with our sextants regularly (still working on those moon/star sights).
Having sailed over 20,000 nm and across 2 major oceans with Bill I can only express awe at what Jessica has accomplished. Until one has done it one cannot even imagine what it must have been like. Good on her!!!
Thanks for including the interview. Great questions.
Interesting to hear her response about her satellite phone–how she sometimes preferred the solitude out there. That surprised me!
Now I am a bit intrigued, and am eager to read your review of her book.
I also have to ask when we’ll see a Sailing Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness book! 🙂 That would also be interesting and definitely something I’d read.
Teresa, I work with commercial shipping every day. I am aboard ships the size of Silver Yang on a regular basis. I can say with confidence that any time a ship is delayed, even by a course change, let alone actually stopping it’s engine is an expensive exersize. where the expense comes in is through extra fuel used to make up time, which can easily reach into the tens of thousand of US dollars in a single trip. The other area where delay causes much larger expenses is if they miss a bearthing window. Those costs do get passed on to the consumer by way of increased shipping costs and they are not trivial amounts. Maersk said earlier in the year, that if they could leave each port 20 minutes earlier, it would add US$800,000,000 to their bottom line. That is one shipping company and that is the correct number of zeros on the figure.
Douglas, Thank you for the links to the report, I had not read it before. Please take a deep breath and re-read my original comment. I did not say it was her fault alone. I said that “she refused any responsibility for the accident” I stand by that comment, and the fact that she did bear responsibilty it is backed up in the report, as is the fact that the other party also bears responsibility.
I have not read her blog, though do notice that you can contact her management through it. I would suggest looking into that company, before deciding on how much of it has not been stage managed.
Here are the links: http://www.jessicawatson.com.au/contact
What I had seen at the time was a considerable amount of television coverage including interviews with her in person. It is her personal responses at the time that my comment was based on.
“Want to make solo sailing against the law?” In most cases, due to the need for sleep, it already is for practical purposes, illegal. Do I want solo sailing prohibited because of that? No I don’t. Please re-read my original comment.
I think Abby should have stayed home with Barbie dolls, but not because of her age.
It’s true that the solo sailor, for their own safety, must gauge whether or not it’s safe to go below instead of keeping a proper lookout. What training is required to ensure that they can properly make this decision? None. Who pays the price if they make the wrong decision? Maybe not just them.
I very much like that she says she could have done without the sat phone and the GPS. I hope that when the cruisers around the world who speak of living a more simple, minimalist life, remember that it IS possible to achieve even great feats of sailing without all the electronic gadgets. If you can afford them, and they offer comfort, go for it! But don’t think you can’t leave shore without them!
As requested I went back and re-read your original post Nomad. All I saw there was you stating that she admited breaking the law and that it is sailors like her making it tougher on the rest of us. Maybe your intent was not that strong, but that is how it reads. Also, I understand that time is money in shipping and that the fuel required to change course and stop the ship comes from the companies pockets. If those expenses are steep enough to be a burden, the companies should just get the law requiring them to give right of way to smaller boats repealed. That way, they have no further legal requirements to watch out for others and can make good time. In the meantime, how about a hit and run clause in that law as well?
Just had a thought about the shipping VS boating situation. I used to fly small single engine aircraft. We had rules reguarding controlled airspace. We had rules about maintaining visual contact with other aircraft in our area. We had people whose only job was to watch the skies with radar and visualy. These people knew where every aircraft was and what its speed and direction of travel was within its coverage area. The larger aircraft had radar for detecting other aircraft as well as weather. There was raido contact between ground controllers and aircraft and between aircraft. You know what? Planes still managed to hit each other and have hundreds of near misses year after year.
You know how it works…………be a blogger find a blog…….enjoy! That is what happened when I stumbled upon your blog. Thanks for it!
I am interested in how yu and your cat are making out onboard? Where have you sailed? and how safe has it been at harbours with your pal?
Thanks for your repsonse.
accidents happen. the situation theoretically is no different than if a bus pulled in front of her car on land. the only difference is she wouldnt have couple old salts debating if she is fit to drive. the most important fact is nobody was hurt. how many kids die every year from car accidents, but you dont see them raising the age limit on a drivers license. how would you feel if you were 16 and everybody was telling you ” your not ready to take that first road trip because you backed into your mailbox”? life is about making mistakes and learning from them not giving up because of fear of that mistake. i find it quite brave that she not only did she handle the situation responsibly, but it didnt even stop her from accomplishing her goal. come on she sailed around the world before she could even drive a car. her story is about chasing your dreams regardless of the obstacles ahead or behind. she acted more responsibly than the crew of the container ship from what i read. for 25 minutes they didnt even check if she was alive or dead all they did was shut their engines off and wait for contact, then they didnt even respond in a timely manner. not saying she wasnt at fault, but why attack her when she followed procedure after the collision. i know junior officers in the navy who have caused a near miss at sea. my point is, even with extensive training things happen that you cant always expect. which is why i say the reaction is more decisive than the action.
I admire her for following her dream. I for one let all my dreams fall to the side for one stupid reason or another. To run any marathon, and to hike across the country. Don’t let pple stop you from doing whats in your heart.
where did ur name originate
Great Job as always Teresa, I really enjoyed the read.
On a solo sail ROW Pink Lady didn’t have a radar reflector fitted 😮 That on it’s own would probably have been enough to avoid the incident even accounting for the sleepy watch-keeping on both sides.
@Nomad – I accept the additional CO2 that freight shipping spews into the atmosphere for course changes or delays, but that’s not an adequate excuse for failing to change course until it’s too late, or not asking if help was required. Mistakes were made on both sides as you rightly point out. Everyone has their own timetable to keep, and their own costs which are significant to them. Enriching Maersk shareholders is not any one else’s business but their own, and they must do it while respecting other vessels and international standards. Just picking on Maersk as it’s the company you mentioned. If a large vessel misses a berthing spot, it’s because not enough slack was planned into the journey – ie. bad planning. No-one else needs to be concerned so long as they are likewise respecting other vessels and international standards. Perhaps the additional costs will help them plan better next time.