x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Teenager set for yachting record bid

A 16-year-old Australian girl will begin her bid to become the youngest round-the-world solo sailor on Sunday, her spokesman said.

A 16-year-old Australian girl will begin her bid to become the youngest round-the-world solo sailor on Sunday, her spokesman said, defying calls to cancel the trip after she crashed on a test voyage. Jessica Watson will sail out of Sydney Harbour in her bright pink yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, early on Sunday after days of strong winds abated, spokesman Andrew Fraser said. "We were always hoping we could get her away on the weekend, and it has all fallen into place," Mr Fraser said.

"She's absolutely 100 per cent happy with the preparation and the boat and the conditions are looking good. Her head space is really good." Miss Watson will be given a private send-off by family and friends for the well-publicised trip, but crowds of onlookers are expected to gather along the harbour as she heads for the high seas. The teenage adventurer hit the headlines last month when she crashed into a 63,000-tonne cargo ship just hours into a dummy run after apparently dozing off, snapping her yacht's mast and damaging its rigging and hull.

Marine safety experts said she was lucky to have stayed afloat and reported seeing childish doodles on her navigation charts, prompting calls from senior officials for her to abandon the attempt. "There are people out there who I suppose have their doubts, and rightly so because it's a big, scary and possibly dangerous thing, but I am not here without confidence," Miss Watson said later. She hopes to complete the hazardous 23,000 nautical mile journey alone and unaided, bettering fellow Australian Jesse Martin who finished the feat aged 18 in 1999.

In August, Britain's Mike Perham, 17, became the youngest person to sail round the world but rudder problems and other hitches forced him to pull into port three times. Miss Watson will sleep in 20-minute bursts and has had a new, powerful alarm fitted on her boat to stop any recurrences of her September accident. Her bid follows a ruling by a Dutch court in August that 13-year-old Laura Dekkers could not embark on a solo round-the-world voyage and should be placed in the care of social services.

In February, 72-year-old Jure Sterk went missing off the Australian coast after setting sail from New Zealand in October 2007 in his yacht, Lunatic, on a bid to become the world's oldest non-stop circumnavigator. Miss Watson's route will take her north from Sydney to the equator above New Zealand, around South America's treacherous Cape Horn and back via the Southern Atlantic and the Cape of Good Hope.

*AFP