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Hobart challenge for sailor Jessica Watson

GEORGINA ROBINSON
Last updated 15:47 23/11/2011

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Jessica Watson knows she's biting off a big chunk. The 18-year-old will skipper the youngest ever crew in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race with little experience in tactical, speed-dependent racing.

Sure, Watson sailed alone around the world, without help, at the age of 16 - a feat that earned her the Young Australian of the Year award in 2011 and the respect of the sailing community. But a Sydney to Hobart is different.

''Around-the-world, for me, was all about slow and steady, having the right preparation and sticking it out for 210 days,'' Watson said yesterday. ''A project like this is obviously a complete new skillset sailing-wise, and then there comes in this team aspect where you are working with this team and leading this team.''

That's why Watson and her crew of 10, with an average age of just 19, sailed out on a dry-run down to Hobart yesterday afternoon.

For eight of the crew, which was hand-picked during the past year or more from the United Kingdom and Australia, this will be their first time sailing the course.

''Collectively, we've all spent different amount of time… at sea and in boats, but to be able to get together and do that as a crew is going to be invaluable,'' Watson said. ''We do have a lot to learn, we aren't experts at this course so [the dry-run] is quite an essential part of our training.''

Watson, by her own admission, is ''probably one of the slowest sailors on board'' the 12-metre Ella Bache Another Challenge.

Her crewmate Mike Perham, an Englishman who was the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe before Watson's effort last year, has brought with him Pete Woodward and Cameron Dale to give the team some technical racing grunt.

But Anthony Bell, the owner and skipper of super-maxi Investec Loyal, which was second over the line last year, says Watson's and Perham's slow-and-steady approach to the race will still be important.

''The biggest issue they've got is the size of their boat and, if the weather does get heavy, it's probably just understanding when to nurse the boat. You want to keep [it] intact and get back into the race when you can,'' Bell said.

''They're a young crew and I think it's a really smart thing that they're doing a Hobart trip as a practice run. But in saying that too, they're in a boat that's one of the smallest craft in the fleet so [they need to] just be aware of that and of its limitations.''

If the opinions of others count, Watson has a fan in Sydney to Hobart veteran Syd Fischer.

''She doesn't need advice, she's very confident and organised, she'll do well,'' said Fischer, who will skipper the 16-metre Ragamuffin in his 43rd Sydney to Hobart.

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''The difference is there's no hurry in the 'round-the-world' thing, you're not racing you're surviving as best you can and going around the course. But when you're racing you're pushing it to the limit. [Jessica] is obviously gutsy and a good sailor so I don't think she'll need much else.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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