Australian Jessica Watson, 16, to become youngest to sail around the world

At 11 a.m. in Sydney Saturday, 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson will become arguably the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world. But critics say her course wasn't long enough to classify as 'around the world.'

Rick Rycroft/AP/File
In this Oct. 18, 2009, photo from teenage sailor Jessica Watson hugs her mother Julie as her father, Roger, looks on as she prepares to depart Sydney on her boat, Ella's Pink Lady, in an attempt to become the youngest person to sail non-stop, solo and unassisted, around the world. Thousands are expected to line Sydney Harbour on Saturday to offer a hero's welcome to the 16-year-old sailor, who battled 40-foot waves, multiple knockdowns, and critics who called her too immature and inexperienced for the treacherous journey.

After seven months on the open seas, Australian Jessica Watson is about to finish her journey as the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world.

The 16-year-old floated out of Sydney Harbor on Oct. 18 in her 34-ft. pink sailboat, Ella's Pink Lady, and at 11 a.m. Sydney time Saturday she's slated to dock and end that journey.

Arriving just days before her 17th birthday, she'll be more than a year younger than Australian Jesse Martin was in 1999 when he entered the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) as the youngest person to make the voyage.

But since then, record-keeping organizations stopped recognizing "youngest" pursuits because of growing controversy over recognizing "human condition categories." Still, until now, nobody younger than Mr. Martin has completed an unassisted around-the-world sailing trip. A 17-year-old Briton completed the trip in August 2009, though his trip was classified as "assisted" because he had to stop for repairs at various ports. In December, a 14-year-old Dutch girl apparently ran... er... sailed away from home after authorities blocked her attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world. (She was picked up on a Caribbean island.)

Ms. Watson set sail with a goal to beat Mr. Martin's age record, but sailing websites reported last week that Watson's route wasn't long enough to qualify as "around the world." To be recognized as a round-the-world course, the WSSRC requires sailors to hit 21,600 nautical miles measured orthodromically – measuring the shortest distance from point to point on a spherical route – and there's doubt about whether she has met that.

Watson doesn't seem to care.

"I've actually been having a bit of a giggle over the whole thing," she wrote May 6 on her blog, which she has updated regularly using an onboard computer and satellite Internet connection (powered with two 80-watt solar panels, a 60-watt solar panel, and a Rutland wind generator). "If I haven't been sailing around the world, then it beats me what I've been doing out here all this time!"

Decide for yourself by looking at the map of her journey.

Like anyone else who has attempted this journey, Watson has experienced huge swells, freezing temperatures, bouts of boredom and loneliness, and engine problems. "My perfect conditions came to an end late on Tuesday with thunderstorms then this freezing cold southerly wind (brrrr!)," she wrote Thursday in her latest blog post.

So what's a girl to do when she docks?

Watson's manager said that when she returned, she'd focus on a film documentary and a forthcoming book, already titled: "True Spirit: The Aussie Girl who Took on the World."

Watson says she's looking forward to a hot shower and sleeping in a bed that doesn't move.

"I can't believe how fast this last week has gone," she wrote Thursday. "Only two more sleeps till the finish line! Have I mentioned how excited I am? It's like the day before Christmas except I don't ever remember getting this excited about Christmas. Two more sleeps till a hot shower, fresh food and, and, and, everything else!"


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