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SYDNEY – An Australian teen completed her around-the-world trek yesterday, becoming the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world after a seven-month journey.
Thousands cheered as 16-year-old Jessica Watson manoeuvred her pink 34-foot yacht into Sydney Harbour, the finale to an adventure in which she overcame 40-foot waves, homesickness and critics who said she’d never make it home alive.
“She said she’d sail around the world and she has,” a tearful Julie Watson said as she watched her grinning daughter cruise past the finish line from a nearby boat. “She’s home.”
Jessica Watson was set to touch land for the first time in 210 days when she docked at the Opera House, where she was greeted by her parents, whose decision to let their daughter attempt such a feat was highly criticised.
“I don’t think any of us would ever doubt Jessica Watson again,” said New South Wales state Premier Kristina Keneally, who was waiting at the Opera House to welcome the teen.
“I’m completely overwhelmed. I just don’t know what to think and what to say at the moment,” Watson said, her voice trembling, in an interview broadcast live on a screen outside the Opera House.
“It’s all a bit much but absolutely amazing.”
Watson, from Buderim, north of Brisbane in Queensland state, sailed out of Sydney on October 18. She travelled northeast 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.
Australian Jesse Martin holds the current record for the youngest person to sail around the world solo, nonstop and unassisted, after he completed the journey in 1999 at the age of 18.
He boarded Watson’s boat and took over as she cruised toward the Opera House, so she could relax and wave to the fans – many wearing pink clothes and waving pink flags in honour of her pink yacht.
Watson’s feat, however, will not be considered an official world record, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its “youngest” category. (AP)