Friday, April 9, 2010

The Amazing Jessica Watson.

I have to confess that I came to this late. I didn’t even realize that a young lady (16 to be exact) named Jessica Watson had set out to try to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in a sailing boat, solo and unassisted, without stops. It immediately grabbed my attention. I looked up her bio on Wiki and found this:

Jessica Watson (born 18 May 1993 in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia) is an Australian sailor (age 16), resident in Buderim, Queensland. She is currently attempting to become the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world.

Status: At sea.

God, I thought, what have I been missing? History in the making? Ever since this realisation I’ve been following Jessica’s blog like a demon possessed, wishing I could see every moment live. Can’t get enough of it.

Reading further on Jessica’s Wiki entry, I saw this:

I hated being judged by my appearance and other people's expectations of what a 'little girl' was capable of. It's no longer just my dream or voyage. Every milestone out here isn't just my achievement, but an achievement for everyone who has put so much time and effort into helping getting me here."

Well, this “little girl” has shown the world the mettle she’s made of, and what a lesson it is for all of us. It really doesn’t matter that Abby Sunderland may eventually take the “youngest” record from her, because Jess has proved to all of us what she set out to prove – that “little girls” have something important to contribute to our global awareness, and even the betterment of humanity, and that people should not be judged by appearance. The word “bravery” is no longer the province of adult male heroes. And Jessica’s bravery is something that is worthy of total adulation. We live in an amazing world that is never short of pleasant surprises, and Jessica Watson is our latest awakening to this. Her humility and her sense of humour amid some of the toughest physical trials any human can face, candidly laid out in her blog entries, is a stunning realisation. Her parents must be so justifiably proud of her.

I have little shame in admitting that I wept, and wept again, at the courage and determination of this amazing young lady. This is my favourite video, when Jessica rounded Cape Horn (known as the "Everest of sailing" because of notorious rough seas):

Jessica kept saying how “amazing” rounding Cape Horn was, but to me the only amazing thing was Jessica herself.

And this is my second favourite video, a tame and mature Jessica, “aged” ten years more than her 16 years (mentioned in her blog entry below after the big Southern Atlantic storm and the knockdowns):

Here, in my opinion, was Jessica’s most poignant blog entry (which caused her to "age ten years"):

That much wind means some very big and nasty waves. To give you an idea of the conditions, they were similar to and possibly worse than those of the terrible 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race. We experienced a total of 4 knockdowns, the second was the most severe with the mast being pushed 180 degrees in to the water. Actually pushed isn't the right word, it would be more accurate to say that Ella's Pink Lady was picked up, thrown down a wave, then forced under a mountain of breaking water and violently turned upside down.

With everything battened down and conditions far too dangerous to be on deck, there wasn't anything I could do but belt myself in and hold on. Under just the tiny storm jib, the big electric autopilot did an amazing job of holding us on course downwind, possibly or possibly not helped by my yells of encouragement! It was only the big rogue waves that hit at us at an angle (side on) that proved dangerous and caused the knockdowns.

The solid frame of the targa (the frame that supports the solar panels) is bent out of shape and warped (see pic below), which provides a pretty good idea of the force of the waves. Solid inch thick stainless steel tube doesn't exactly just bend in the breeze, so I think you could say that Ella's Pink Lady has proven herself to be a very tough little boat!

With my whole body clenched up holding on, various objects flying around the cabin and Ella's Pink Lady complaining loudly under the strain, it was impossible to know what damage there was on deck. It was a little hard at times to maintain my positive and rational thoughts policy, but overall I think I can say that the skipper held up us well as Ella's Pink Lady. It was certainly one of those times when you start questioning exactly why you're doing this, but at no point could I not answer my own question with a long list of reasons why the tough times like that aren't totally worth it!

Source for the above: From Jessica's blog

Being somewhat of a skeptic, I searched the Internet to find out if, as Jessica reported, that a sail boat could survive a 180 degree capsize, or "knockdown" (not being a sailor myself). Here are some of the results I found:

Perhaps the following broader definition is closer to what modern designers aim for: a seaworthy sailboat is one that is
• able to recover quickly from a 180-degree capsize without serious damage and without sinking
• strong enough to look after herself while hove-to or lying ahull
• seakindly—free of violent, jerky rolling and pounding
• well-balanced, docile on the helm, and easily handled at all times
• agile downwind and able to avoid most plunging breakers
• able to beat to windward, or at least hold her ground, in all but the heaviest conditions
• habitable—able to carry ample crew with good headroom and comfort, plus water and supplies, for extended periods
• capable of good average speeds on long passages

Thus silenced the skeptic in me (non-sailor that I am) . And I’m sure that like the 1969 journey to the moon, some will still doubt that Jessica Watson circumnavigated the globe solo. And in closing, may I reiterate that the most “amazing” thing about this whole journey isn’t the sight of Cape Horn, nor anything, but Jessica Watson herself.

You are an amazing human being, Jess, and you restore my faith in humanity, and more importantly, the future of our species. We can hardly go wrong with people like you, and your inimitable bravery.

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