Solo sailor Jessica Watson, 16, completes globe-circling feat
Watson sails into Sydney Harbor after her seven-month voyage, and is feted by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who calls her 'Australia's newest hero.'
Jessica Watson may have sailed on her own for 210 days, but the last hour of her trip was anything but solo.
As the 16-year-old Australian entered Sydney Harbor on Saturday after circumnavigating the world unassisted, an armada surrounded her 34-foot yacht: hundreds of racing yachts, tiny sea kayaks, dinghies, ferries, powerboats, water police vessels and one bright red tugboat that sprayed water over everyone.
After she wobbled onto dry land at the Sydney Opera House, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told her she was "Australia's newest hero." Other teenagers might think twice before disagreeing with their country's leader on national television. Not Jessica.
"I'm actually going to disagree with what our prime minister has just said," she told the crowd cheering her return. "I don't consider myself a hero. I'm an ordinary girl who believed in a dream. You don't have to be someone special or anything special to achieve something amazing. You've just got to have a dream, believe in it, and work hard."
But after sailing 23,000 nautical miles, facing storms and confronting waves that knocked her yacht on its side seven times — evidence of the battering visible on its solar panels — she is unlikely to shed the hero tag soon.
Rudd saluted her as a role model to young Australians and presented her with a copy of the government's "Keys to Drive" program and "one free lesson courtesy of the Australian taxpayer." A few weeks before, Jessica had told him on the phone that she needed to learn how to drive when she got home.
"You will pass your driving test with flying colors as you passed the navigation test for the world," Rudd said.
Teen sailor Jessica Watson arrives back home in Sydney following her world record attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, in Sydney Harbour on May 15, 2010 in Sydney, Australia. The 16-year old set out in October last year to break the record held by fellow Australian Jesse Martin, but there remains doubt from the World Speed Sailing Record Council (the official record body) as to whether she sailed far enough north of the equator to claim the world record: