An Australian schoolgirl attempting to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world said she “copped a pounding” during a fierce storm in which her yacht was repeatedly knocked under water.
Sixteen-year-old Jessica Watson faced the toughest conditions to date on her non-stop, unassisted circumnavigation when she endured hurricane-force winds and waves up to 10 metres (33 feet) high on the Atlantic Ocean on Friday.
“We certainly copped a pounding out here, but we came through it all OK,” Watson said in comments posted on her website on Saturday.
“It’s times like this when you realise why good preparation of the boat is so important. She handled it well.”
The storm came as American Abby Sunderland, who is five months younger than Watson, set sail from the US to try and break the same record. Sunderland congratulated Watson in comments posted on her blog as Watson rounded Cape Horn.
Watson left Sydney in her bright pink yacht “Ella’s Pink Lady” more than three months ago and during the storm passed the 11,000 nautical mile mark on her voyage.
The tempest was the first time the schoolgirl had experienced a “knockdown” — when the mast goes below horizontal and dives into the sea. The boat was knocked down four times during the eight-hour storm and sustained minor damage.
Watson, who was strapped into a seat throughout the ordeal, reported that the winds had abated by Saturday, the swell had dropped to a more comfortable three metres and dolphins were swimming beside her boat.
The Queensland schoolgirl’s supporters believe her 23,000 nautical mile journey, which she hopes to complete in eight months to break the record set by fellow Australian Jesse Martin, then aged 18, in 1999, is the maritime equivalent of conquering Mount Everest.
When Watson left Australia on October 18, controversy raged over whether she was too young and inexperienced to undertake the challenge after she smashed into a massive coal freighter during a test sail in September.