A Voyage Alone Around the World

October 18th, 2009

I believe that if we are truly fortunate and determined, we can experience moments within our lives that are transformational.   That we may create opportunities to experience and encounter amazing things… life-changing things, and to lift ourselves up in ways that we’ve only previously imagined.    It doesn’t have to be an epic journey, or a singular event.  It might be the experience of helping another person truly in need, or sharing the life of a new-born child that might never have come before.  Maybe it’s a personal spiritual event that only the individual will ever really know about.

And yet maybe it is indeed an epic journey.  For Jessica Watson, today begins an incredible journey that most of us can hardly imagine.  At just 16 years old, Jessica is attempting to become the youngest person to ever sail non-stop around the world.  She left Syndey Harbour in Australia this morning, beginning what may be an eight month journey… by herself.   Can you imagine?  

It’s a dream I’ve always had, and yet with nearly five decades behind me I doubt I will experience that dream in my lifetime.  I’ve seen the tumult of the seas first hand, but from a far different perspective.  Some of which included standing on the deck of a thousand foot long aircraft carrier, watching enormous waves pitch such a ship around, sometimes breaking over the bow more than 60 feet from the ocean’s surface.   I’ve flown off such a pitching home, and landed on the same.  I remember the ship pitching and rolling so precipitously at times that the enormous propellors, taller than a house, were lifted nearly all out of the waves for brief moments.   I’ve watched the smaller frigates and cruisers far astern being tossed like toothpicks (as I merely rolled around on the carrier), and marvelled at the power of nature.  I’ve seen Cape Horn and waves that looked like mountains rip catwalks and lifeboats off the side of the ship.  I’ve seen storms in the North Pacific toss aircraft over the side. I’ve launched off the bow in an approaching typhoon, riding hell bent toward the waves as the ship pitched up just in time and my craft went airborne.   So much more, and yet it’s all so beautiful too.


I remember watching the sun set while waiting to launch off the deck, only to see it rise briefly as I climbed thousands of feet into the sky, and then watching it set once again on the same day.   All those years I looked below at the world’s oceans, thousands of miles from anywhere else.   It’s a beautiful, tranquil place at times.  And a lonely place.  I remember flying alone in my small fighter from Iwo Jima toward Tokyo just after sunset one evening.  Everything was cloaked in a glowing gray and white, incredibly beautiful to see, and spanning nearly the entire 600 miles of ocean between was another typhoon far below.  I  looked down from around 39,000 feet at the swirls of white clouds, and traveled over the eye of that storm marveling at the energy of wind and waves that must be taking place so far below on the ocean’s surface. 

Perhaps it’s because of what I have, or more importantly- what I have not experienced, that I find her journey all the more amazing.  Jessica and her supporters have prepared for this journey for a long time now, and she is an accomplished sailor.   Yet the strength and courage that such a journey must take is staggering to me to consider.  In an age of digital communications, and where news travels literally at the speed of light, we may too easily take for granted her age or journeys such as this.   No matter the technology she may have on board, nothing can change the fact that a young woman, alone, is sailing around the world in a sailboat.   She is facing the seas alone, and I pray she will be successful on her long journey.   Fair winds Jessica!  And following seas where you most need them!

You can read updates about Jessica’s journey at her blog, Youngest Round.

8 Responses to “A Voyage Alone Around the World”

  1. back in the late 60s, I remember a guy who sailed around the world solo–his story was told in 3 National Geographic issues and I too thought it would be something wonderful to achieve… Like you, that and Everest are two goals to be scratched off my list unachieved.

  2. I remember reading a book titled Dove about a young man who sailed solo around the world. I admire their achievement, but I’m much too chicken to ever dare to try something like that.

  3. Vincent

    I sorry but I disagree with such an endeavour. 16 is too young.
    My good friend, Kristine, works in the high latitudes, where during our winter she crosses the Drake every ten or so days, Svalbad and the ice in our summer. She has shown me some photos of what those seas can do to steel. Safety rails, twisted to the shape of a butchers hook.
    My family are of the North Atlantic. They crossed back and forth well before the existence of the USA. While I do not know the Seas as well as some in my family I do know blue water. I know what it takes to enter a RNLI boat to rescue some idiot that should not be allowed within an country mile of a bathtub nevermind the Oceans.
    And it is from such a stance that I hold that 16 is too young for making a decision that could kill her. What sort of parents has she, did they allow her to cross the roads ten years ago, when she was six.
    This to me smacks very much of pushy parents.
    When she is 18, then, perfect. Until then she is a child, and if needs be removed from her parents whom I feel are a danger to her life. If you cannot Vote then you have not the legal decision making capacity to do something like this.
    And anyway, what next. Yanking a sheet from a cradle.

  4. R. Sherman

    There’s truly something magical about the ocean. Reading your memories of its power and recalling various YouTube clips of monster waves, I tremble at the thought of being out in that on a tiny 30 foot sailboat.


  5. Ed

    I love the ocean but as a confirmed landlubber, I prefer it from the shoreline.

    I’m with Vincent on this one. When I heard this news this morning, my first thought were pushy parents or at least their not being quite right for letting their daughter attempt such a thing at an early age. I’m sure in the modern age of constant communication world round, that it makes things seem safer but even then, help can be a long way away.

  6. Sage- I remember something about that; since then many have achieved the same. Recently read about another young woman from England who solo nav’d as part of a race. Her stories were amazing.
    Pablo- Yes! That’s another one I remember. Most of us can’t fathom doing the same… and I’m probably just dreaming. :)
    Randall- It really is so magical. I putter around lakes and rivers in a 20′ boat… and I can’t imagine sailing a 30 footer on the high seas either!
    Vincent/ Ed- I wasn’t going to go there :) but I understand your feelings, and many others think the same. If my son or daughter of that age were to pursue a similar trial I doubt they would be allowed here, let alone thinking of my own feelings. But other cultures and people can be very different, and in this I see it as their choice. I have met 15-16 year old “kids” with a maturity and competence far stronger than others twice that age. Is 16 that different from 18 or 21 for some people? I don’t know. In any event, yesterday she set off… and at this point I believe we can only wish her our heartfelt thoughts and prayers! Thanks.

  7. pamela

    I wish her a safe and wondrous trip, but I don’t understand the value of being the youngest person to sail around the world.

  8. Vincent

    16 is different Beau when your life depends on experience. And that is different from maturity and competence. Nor is Australia that different in culture.

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