Girl sailor sets off on solo record bid

Teenager ignores doubters calling for her to abandon 23,000-mile trip
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If Jessica Watson felt any trepidation about the challenge ahead of her, the 16-year-old schoolgirl showed no sign of it as she sailed out of Sydney Harbour yesterday in her bright pink yacht, aiming to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo and unassisted.

Ms Watson smiled and waved at well-wishers as she set off under grey skies and in choppy conditions. If all goes well, she will return in about eight months with a new world record and a stash of well-thumbed trashy novels, which she has taken to help her pass the solitary hours at sea.

The lead-up to her departure was clouded by controversy, with critics saying she was too young and inexperienced to undertake the 23,000-mile trip. Calls for her to abandon the voyage reached a climax after she collided with a cargo ship during a test run from Queensland to Sydney last month.

An inquiry by Queensland's maritime safety body found that the teenager had probably dozed off, that she did not have a fatigue-management plan, and that her safety guide consisted of a page torn out of a school notebook and covered in doodles.

Nonetheless, Ms Watson, supported by her parents, declared she would press on with her plan. "There are people out there who have their doubts, and rightly so, because it's a big, scary and possibly dangerous thing," she said. "But I'm not here without confidence, and I suppose the experience and the right attitude. I have no doubts."

While she will sail solo, her support team will be tracking her 33ft yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, as she makes her way through the South Pacific, around South America's Cape Horn and back home via the South Atlantic and Cape of Good Hope.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered 13-year-old Laura Dekker to be placed in temporary state care to prevent her embarking on a similar solo attempt. Ms Watson was inspired by Jesse Martin, an Australian who sailed around the world at 18. In August, a British schoolboy, 17-year-old Mike Perham, completed the same voyage but only after pulling into port three times.

Ms Watson, who has been sailing since she was nine, is well stocked for the trip. Her supplies include lamb chops and Tim Tams, a popular Australian chocolate biscuit. She has promised to email her family at least twice daily, and plans to sleep in 20-minute naps.