Making waves: Interview with Australian sailor Jessica Watson

23 August 2014 | Article

Jessica Watson, OAM (Order of Australia Medal), is a young Australian sailor and Champion of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014. In May 2010, Jessica became the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world.

In today’s digital age, many children are increasingly becoming disconnected with the natural environment. Were you always encouraged to get out and about in nature? What inspired you to attempt to sail non-stop around the world?

I know people who still think my Mum and Dad were crazy for not having a television in the house when I was growing up. But looking back, I’m glad we didn’t. Not having a TV to keep us entertained meant my brother, sisters and I spent loads of time getting in to trouble in the backyard. Our weekends were usually spent camping or at the yacht club and I think this made me appreciate the outdoors and developed my sense of adventure.

I can only imagine how differently my life would have turned out if I hadn’t been given this taste for adventure!

When I first dreamt of sailing around the world it was the challenge that appealed to me, but I was also fascinated by the ocean. There’s something incredible about the open ocean, miles away from land.

Can you tell us a little about your adventures and the types of environments you’ve travelled through?

I don’t think anyone would be shocked to hear that sailing solo, non-stop around the world as a 16 year-old comes with its challenges. Running into a 63,000 tonne ship and being rolled upside down multiple times in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean makes for some pretty tough days, but there were also loads of amazing days and experiences.

Sailing through the Southern Ocean was particularly special to me. Despite the cold and often stormy conditions, the power of the waves down there is just incredible. It’s breathtaking to watch mountains of water rolling towards you while huge Albatross circle overhead.

Have your adventures through many marine environments inspired you to help protect them?

I think it would be impossible to spend time sailing without becoming worried about their protection. I’m so lucky to have had such amazing experiences on the oceans and I want future generations to have the same opportunities.

In 2010 you sailed into a packed Sydney Harbour, receiving a hero’s welcome after an arduous voyage. Initially you came up against many road blocks and lack of support. What would you say to young people who have a dream and are told it isn’t possible?

When I first started sailing, I was scared of just about everything, I’m an ordinary girl who worked hard to achieve something. I hope what I’ve achieved proves that anyone can achieve anything if they set their mind to it. So many people think ‘I couldn’t do that’ but why not turn that thought around and think ‘what do I need to do to get there?’

Every young person should have the opportunity to enjoy nature; there’s so much that we can learn from the outdoors. And I don’t think it’s possible to spend time on the ocean without falling in love with it and caring about the way we treat it.