SYDNEY (AP) A 16-year-old Australian who spent seven months sailing around the world said critics who doubted her abilities before she set sail in her pink yacht had some company: herself. Jessica Watson, who on Saturday cruised into Sydney Harbour to become the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted, acknowledged in an interview aired Sunday that she shared some people’s concerns that she might not be ready for the 23,000-nautical-mile journey.
“It was driving me mad, because I hadn’t actually done any solo sailing. And here I was telling the world I was about to sail solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world and I hadn’t actually been out by myself,” Watson told Australia’s Ten Network, which helped sponsor her trip.
“I knew I could do it, but there was just that niggling doubt .
but yeah, it was fine in the end, obviously.
” Watson, who has been sailing since age 8, spent 210 days successfully maneuvering her 34-foot (10-meter) yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, through raging storms, 40-foot (12-meter) waves and seven boat knockdowns. “All of a sudden you’re sort of upside down or on your side and then time sort of stops and you’re going, ‘Oh my goodness,’” she said of the knockdowns.
“You just don’t know what’s going to be left on deck.” Still, she found the days leading up to storms the most unnerving.
“I was completely exhausted at the time. I was sort of a bit numb.
So I wasn’t actually thinking it was possible to get that scared,” she said. “But before a storm, before you know it’s gonna get bad, it worries you it hangs over your whole life for a few days until it happens.
” Watson, who will celebrate her 17th birthday on Tuesday, amassed a large following of armchair adventurers during her seven months at sea. She regularly updated her blog with details of her journey, from the dramatic knockdowns, to the simple joy of watching the sun set over glassy waters.
Thousands lined the harbor to cheer on the teen as she cruised past the finish line Saturday, and she was greeted by the Prime Minister after docking at the Opera House. All the attention was overwhelming, she said, but the support made it possible to survive the solitude.
“Just knowing that there were so many people thinking of me out there, that made a difference,” she said. “You couldn’t get lonely knowing that there were so many people thinking of you.
” Watson sailed northeast through the South Pacific and across the equator, south to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, through the Indian Ocean and around southern Australia. The teen’s feat will not be considered an official world record, however, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its “youngest” category.
Australian Jesse Martin holds the record for the youngest person to sail around the world solo, nonstop and unassisted, after he completed the journey in 1999 at the age of 18. The lack of record-holder status has done little to quell the adoration of Watson’s fans or her sponsors.
She already has a book deal, a television documentary is in the works and her handlers have booked her for a series of public appearances. By Sunday, she had already achieved one of her most immediate goals: getting a long, uninterrupted night’s sleep in a bed that didn’t move.