Friday, May 21, 2010

Final Thoughts on Jessica Watson.

She brightened my life, and gave me hope; hope that humanity hasn’t, finally, resorted to complete cynicism. That’s why we need more 16 year olds who believe in following their dreams, before being tainted by the doubts and scepticism of adulthood (and “specialists”). Perhaps this sort of voyage really isn’t for everyone, but in Jessica’s case it seems as though the Gods smiled upon her, and maybe even made an “exception” (if you so believe). She was a girl on a mission, and they (the Gods) could not have chosen a better representative. Her disarming and totally charming personality, and humility, as so often recorded on her blog, was inescapable. Even after her arrival in Sydney, she said nothing that would compromise the spirit of her round the world sail. “I’m just an ordinary girl”, was her friendly rebuttal to the Prime Minister of Australia. Something that few of us, apart from Jessica, really believes. I watched a video of Jessica on New Year’s Eve 2009-2010, wishing everyone a “Happy New Year”, her lips almost frozen by the cold as she did so, and knowing that she would be spending this time alone. Maybe, or maybe not, she shed a few silent tears after producing that video, knowing that most “normal” 16 year old girls would be out there partying, and enjoying the comforts of food, family, and friends.

I have to candidly admit that I feel nothing but contempt for her critics, who mostly from their heated Internet homes and everyday comforts voiced sometimes scathing criticism. Watching Ella’s Pink Lady plough through the waves on its approach to Sydney, is something I will never forget. Jessica’s excitement was obvious, but what would anyone expect after seven months, 210 days at sea? Her self-steering mechanism, “Parker” was crooked and bent from a severe knockdown, but still in working condition. One solar panel bore the marks of a huge wave that virtually bent steel, and at one point Ella’s Pink Lady was upside down, as described by Jessica:

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: Official Jessica Watson Blog

On arrival back in Sydney, and hyperactive from the excitement of arriving, barely able to sleep, she still managed to face the media with aplomb that would be the envy of anyone. Her joy and excitement shared by those most deserving – her family – as Sydney harbour lit up with buzzing helicopters, thousands of boats, and a water-spraying boat, which drenched everyone including Julie, her mother, who was too overjoyed to even fret. I’ve never really paid much attention to the Sydney-Hobart race, but this occasion entirely absorbed me. And maybe many readers feel I’m being too “sentimental”, but the fact is that Jess Watson has, truly, inspired me, with her courage and utter determination and bravery. I never tire of reading about her, and watching that teen face take on the world, and conquer. She has permanently cemented a place in my heart, and I will forever look back at her epic voyage as the absolute highlight of 2010.

To those who suggested that she could be “better engaged” in “worthy causes”, like “helping the poor”, and complaining about taxpayer expenses, maybe you should realise that this is a young lady who has, in my opinion, revived the “true spirit” of Australia, which is no less than overcoming the odds against her. The thousands who greeted her at the Sydney Opera House, no doubt realised they were witnessing a very special moment in Australian maritime history, regardless of “official” records. This is a young girl, who perhaps in the eyes of many naively said, “tomorrow I will wake up and sail around the world”.

And she did.

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand. – Irish Proverb.

Almost home (the catamaran in the background is Bruce Arms' "Big Wave Rider". Bruce was Jessica's sailing "mentor", and remained in constant contact with her during the voyage. He sailed out to accompany her home over the last miles to Sydney Harbour:


1. Going solo: Jessica Watson's 'mental toughness'

2. 60 Minutes: Jessica's Excellent Adventure

3. Jessica Watson with Alan Jones

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