Jessica Watson set for grand welcome

Family pride: Margaret and Gordon Chisholm, of Lowburn, near Cromwell, with granddaughter Jessica Watson.
Family pride: Margaret and Gordon Chisholm, of Lowburn, near Cromwell, with granddaughter Jessica Watson.

The grandparents of yachting sensation Jessica Watson will be among tens of thousands cheering the teenager into Sydney Harbour this weekend.

Jessica, 16, is expected to cast ashore at the Opera House on Saturday.

After 210 days at sea in her yacht Ella's Pink Lady, she will be the youngest person to sail solo around the world, nonstop and unassisted.

Her grandparents, Gordon and Margaret Chisholm, of Lowburn, near Cromwell, fly from Queenstown to Australia tomorrow.

When asked what he would say to his granddaughter when he greets her, Mr Chisholm said: "Where have you been lately?"

Mrs Chisholm said Jessica seemed in great spirits and was feeling healthy, energetic and positive. "She's keen to do a bit of walking," she said.

Jessica has sailed into controversy during her circumnavigation attempt.

Mr Chisholm was last week unfazed by a claim in Sail World magazine that said the teenager had not travelled far enough to beat the record for the youngest, solo, nonstop circumnavigation set by Australian Jesse Martin in 1999.

In September, during a test run from Mooloolaba to Sydney, her 10.3m yacht collided with the 63,000-ton Silver Yang bulk carrier about 27km east of North Stradbroke Island.

Critics cited inexperience but the official accident report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau was inconclusive.

Mr Chisholm said the crash was an expensive exercise, it taught his granddaughter a lesson and her yacht's alarm system was upgraded.

The publicity got out of hand – politicians wanted their say, criticising Jessica's New Zealand-born parents Roger and Julie for allowing their daughter to set sail, he said.

"In Australia everything has to be about politics.

"It hasn't overshadowed it," he said.

Most teenagers who told their parents they wanted to set sail around the world would be viewed as "bloody stupid" but not his granddaughter, Mr Chisholm said.

Inspired by Jesse Martin's book Lionheart, Jessica and her family spent years planning the expedition, he said.

"She went to her sister and said, `don't tell mum and dad but I want to sail around the world'."

She was barely into her teens but "totally focused on it ever since," he said.

Project manager Bruce Arms this week said Jessica had laughed off the criticism.

The Southland Times