Fame and fortune for teen sailor

Last updated 10:41 16/04/2010
Jessica Watson
Fairfax
EPIC ADVENTURE: Queensland schoolgirl Jessica Watson could find fame and fortune waiting from her when she completes her round-the-world journey.

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At the age of just 16, yachtswoman Jessica Watson is about to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo, sailing her way to fame and fortune.

Her manager Andrew Fraser is coy about the massive deals being offered to his client but admits he's astounded by some of the offers.

"It's a global interest, there's no doubt she's engaged the world," Mr Fraser said.

"However, all we're focusing on at the moment is getting Jess back.

"Once we get her back to shore then we'll sit down and work out all of the opportunities.

"It's important that she does stuff that she wants to do and enjoys, because there's no doubt she's going to be in high demand."

The Queensland teenager's trip attracted controversy before it began when she collided with a 63,000 tonne bulk carrier off North Stradbroke Island during her first trial - sailing from the Sunshine Coast to Sydney.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found Jessica was asleep at the time and had not seen the ship when she checked her radar before taking a catnap, even though the vessel was just one nautical mile away from her.

Critics argued she was too young and inexperienced for such a formidable challenge, but Mr Fraser said extra safety precautions were put in place including louder alarm systems, back-up systems and additional automatic identification systems.

Now that she is approaching her historic finish mark the criticisms have faded from memory and everyone, it seems, is clamouring to be her new best friend.

But Mr Fraser said companies wanting to leap on the success story would have to stand in line.

"The first priority is to look after Jessica's existing partners who've shared the vision and supported her the whole way through the journey," he said.

"But we've got lots of offers.

"We want everybody to be able to share in this when she comes back and we'll be doing a big open press conference."

A book is expected to be launched at the Sydney International Boat Show in July.

Mr Fraser welcomed comments from Australia's 1983 America's Cup winning skipper John Bertrand, who described Jessica's voyage as "a very gutsy effort".

"People wouldn't realise the extreme conditions that Jessica would have faced in circumnavigating the world in a 34-foot boat by herself," he said.

"She's a tiny girl. To achieve this adventure is quite extraordinary.

"It represents the spirit of this country in many ways.

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"It underlines what young people can achieve."

Mr Fraser said Bertrand's comments were astute and dismissed suggestions that Jessica has simply been lucky, encountering benign weather around Cape Horn, and for most of her trip.

She survived a raging storm on January 22 in the southern Atlantic Ocean, which damaged some of her equipment and left her nursing bruises approaching the halfway point of her trip.

"I guess it comes down to what your definition of what fair sailing is," Mr Fraser said.

"Jess hit seven metre swells and 45 knot winds, which were pretty horrific.

"She's very modest and she doesn't make a big deal of it on her (internet) blog, but it's been very difficult for her, and she's just got herself into a routine now having had the storm, and each day's just another day."

Her team has worked closely with a meteorologist to avoid the tricky weather.

"That's a credit to the whole team that prepared that boat in such fashion that it's allowed her to get through situations," Mr Fraser said.

Mr Fraser says if everything goes to plan Jessica should sail Ella's Pink Lady into Sydney Harbour on the first or second weekend in May, just ahead of her 17th birthday on May 18.

Now that she's so close, Jessica has opted to take a longer, but much safer route on the final leg home.

She'll sail below Tasmania then up the eastern seaboard to minimise the time she has to spend in Bass Strait, one of the most challenging stretches of water for yachts on the planet.

- AAP

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