Australia has a new hero

By Chris Bray 7 November 2013
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On the eve of her return, Chris Bray gives a well-deserved nod to fellow adventurer Jessica Watson.

ON SATURDAY 15 MAY, after 210 days alone at sea, Aussie Jessica Watson will sail through the heads of Sydney Harbour, and in doing so, become the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo and unassisted, at just 16 years old.

With celebrations set to rival New Year’s Eve attendance levels, and several hours of live television broadcast, there can be little doubt of one thing: Australia has a new hero — regardless of whether the governing body for such records in the UK chooses to recognise her achievement.

As with any inspiring adventurer Jessica faced more than her fair share of criticism and debate before her departure. To her immense credit she held firm, recovered from serious setbacks and ultimately triumphed. Let this be a lesson for all naysayers and pessimists out there, who seem so quick to lecture adventurers from the comfort of their own monotonous lives.

Jessica Watson (Photo: Getty Images)

16-year-old sailer Jessica Watson (Photo: Getty Images)

Not only has Jessica succeeded, but in doing so she has touched the hearts and minds of millions of people. Without adventurers like Jessica pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible, humanity would never move forward.

Before I met Jessica, I thought the voyage was a pretty ambitious undertaking for a girl of her age. I wasn’t sure whether she’d make it, but offered her nothing less than full support and the utmost respect. Upon meeting her, I was blown away by how calm, cool and collected she was, even in the final days of her preparation. I knew then that, providing her gear didn’t break irreparably, she had every chance of making it. She was far more mature than her 16 years.

One of the most remarkable things about such a voyage is that it was solo. On all my expeditions — including 28 days in the Tasmanian wilderness, and two world-first expeditions in the Arctic — I was in the company of a good friend, and this made all the difference. Sure, Jessica had a satellite phone and was in near constant communication with her friends and family (she even gave me a call out there) but in no way is that the same as having someone to share the exciting highs, or to help bolster your spirits through the horrific lows.

In those terrifying moments, Jessica really was alone in the middle of the ocean, in a small yacht dwarfed by angry, towering mountains of water. For her to cope with it all in the perpetually level-headed, positive manner that she did is just remarkable for anyone — even a seasoned salty sea-dog, let alone a teenager.

We can all thank Jessica for reminding us that life is what you make it, and that with a little enthusiasm and dedication — and a little responsible risk taking — anything really is possible. Good on you Jessica! I think you’re a hero and an absolute champion.

Chris Bray was awarded the Australian Geographic Young Adventurer of the Year in 2004 and is currently the Chair of the Australian New Zealand chapter of the Explorers Club.