Teenager's record attempt called into question
A row has erupted over the validity of Australian teenager Jessica Watson‘s circumnavigation attempt.
Watson, 16, is due to sail into Sydney next week, becoming the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world.
But a dispute over whether she has travelled far enough to be able to claim the title is threatening to overshadow her return.
Rob Kothe, editor of Sail-World, said her route does not meet the requirements of the World Speed Sailing Record Council (WSSRC), which is the recognised global authority on the subject, and thus she cannot claim to have broken the record set by fellow Australian Jesse Martin in 1999, when he was 18.
Watson’s manager, Andrew Fraser, has hit back by saying that as the WSSRC does not recognise voyages by under-18s, its rules are irrelevant.
Kothe said: “Jessica’s voyage is a great tribute to her stoicism, courage and good sailing skills, to the excellent choice of yacht, to the technical and moral support given by her land team and the strong support by her sponsors, and to the craft of the PR company who has carefully guided the Watson family to maximise all the possible PR opportunities, but that’s all.
“While the WSSRC no longer recognises the youngest or oldest in any area of sailing, separately from that, the fact remains that under WSSRC definitions Jessica has simply not sailed an official RTW circumnavigation. This is the way it is.
Given that fact that the WSSRC is the the offical record keeping body Jesse Martin will remain the youngest sailor to have completed a Round the World circumnavigation, non-stop and unassisted. This is the way it is, too.”
Fraser responded: “It is very important to note that the WSSRC do not recognise any voyages from sailors under the age of 18. As such, Jesse Martin’s WSSR certificate of recognition cannot ever be challenged in the context of the WSSRC criteria.
“As a result of the WSSRC decision to discontinue recognition of age related journeys, there is no official body to recognise Jessica’s feat and therefore no official body’s rules that need to be adhered to.
“To sail around the world, a vessel must start from and return to the same point, must cross all meridians of longitude and must cross the Equator. Jessica has ticked all of these boxes.
“We feel Jessica has every right to enjoy the impending accolades and celebrate being the youngest person to sail solo around the world, non-stop and unassisted, when she sails back into Sydney Harbour on the weekend of 15-16 May.”
Others have waded into the debate as well. John Bertrand, Australia’s 1983 America’s Cup winning skipper, said: “What Jessica has achieved is phenomenal. For such a young girl to tackle this feat, in sometimes extreme conditions, braving the elements of mother nature, it’s inspirational for the country and in a sense represents the spirit of Australia.
“To sail around the world, by yourself at 16, it’s remarkable. I think that it will be something she can be proud of for the rest of her life.”
This is not the first time Watson’s campaign has had to handle criticism.
In a test journey before she began the circumnavigation she crashed into a 63,000 tonne cargo ship off Queensland, prompting claims that she was too young for such a trip.
But since leaving Sydney on October 18, she has had a relatively smooth and until now controversy-free voyage and on Monday rounded the South East Cape of Tasmania
She is currently sailing north along Australia’s east coast on her final leg towards the finish line in Sydney.