Teen spirit: The Aussie girl who sailed around the world

Jessica Watson, 16, the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe, arrives home
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The Independent Online

She is too young to buy the champagne that was being popped yesterday to hail her safe return, but that won't bother Jessica Watson after the 16-year-old became the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

After 210 days at sea and a voyage of more than 23,000 nautical miles, all the exhausted young Australian wanted was to sink into a "big, non-rolling bed" and eat some "fresh food". She said she hoped her achievement would show the world what young women could achieve. "As a little girl, people don't think you're capable of these things, they don't realise what young people, 16-year-olds and girls are capable of. But it's amazing what you can do," she said.

Despite the fanfare that greeted her arrival in Sydney Harbour, where thousands of people including Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gathered to cheer her return, it remains a point of contention whether Ms Watson achieved her goal.

Some sailing enthusiasts argue her route did not take her far enough north of the equator for her journey to count as a true round-the-world sail, as defined by the World Speed Sailing Record Council. Controversy over her youth and safety concerns have prompted the council to end its under-18 category.

Not that the controversy troubled Jessica: "Call me immature but I've actually been having a bit of a giggle over the whole thing. If I haven't been sailing around the world, then it beats me what I've been doing out here all this time!" she wrote on the blog she kept during the voyage.

A strong southerly wind and 12-foot seas added an unwelcome additional two hours to the final throes of her journey, which ended when she steered the 30ft Ella's Pink Lady across the finish line at 1.50pm yesterday.

After subsisting for so many months on pre-packaged meals, the odd freshly caught fish and a steady supply of chocolate, she said she planned to celebrate by tucking into her mum's pavlova, some fresh fruit, plenty of salad and a chicken burrito. She said it was a "mega mega under-exaggeration" to describe her return as "the most amazing day", adding the welcome was "totally overwhelming... way, way beyond anything I'd ever imagined".

Mr Rudd hailed her as the country's "newest hero". A book, True Spirit: The Aussie Girl who Took on the World, which is out in July, will further fan the flames of her popularity, which has seen a Jessica Watson-brand baseball cap, posters and souvenir packs all fly off her website.

Although Jessica, who is from Buderim, north of Brisbane, in Queensland, has been sailing since she was eight, the world was initially aghast when her parents let her sail out of Sydney last October. She proved her doubters wrong during a treacherous voyage that took her north-east through the South Pacific and across the equator, south to Cape Horn at the tip of South America, across the Atlantic Ocean to South Africa, through the Indian Ocean and around southern Australia. Among the highlights, she said, was the sighting of a blue whale.