I wasn't going to blog about this again until Jessica Watson actually completed her circumnavigation, but events (plus the fact that I'll soon be incommunicado on the blue yonder again myself) have forced my hand. News Tidbit Number 1 is that Abby Sunderland has been forced to put into Cape Town, South Africa, to fix her balky autopilot. So her bid for a Youngest Solo Non-Stop Unassisted Circumnavigation (YSNSUC) record is undeniably over. Tidbit Number 2 is that, even as all of Australia quivers on the verge of an orgasm of publicity over the return of Jessica, who is now only a few days shy of finishing her voyage at Sydney, a furious debate has erupted over whether she can truly claim the YSNSUC record herself.
Seems that Jessica's shore team has screwed up badly. In mapping out her voyage, they failed to send her far enough into the Northern Hemisphere to cover the official great circle route distance necessary (21,600 nautical miles, which is the Earth's circumference at the equator) to match the achievement of Jesse Martin, who first set the YSNSUC record in 1999 and covered 21,760 miles. Jessica, it seems, will only have covered 18,582 miles. The immediate result has been a big pissing match between Jessica's PR flack, Andrew Fraser, and Australia's popular Sail-World website, which claims it first raised the question before Jessica left, but was ignored.
Of course, Jessica will still be able to claim some kind of record. Or perhaps several. Youngest to Sail Solo Around the World One Way Or Another Non-Stop In A Pink Boat After Getting Hit By A Freighter During A Test Sail Beforehand is one example that springs immediately to mind. Or maybe she should just skip Sydney for now and do a victory lap around Australia to get in the extra miles she needs to topple Jesse Martin's record.
As for Abby, it's not clear what's next for her. The party line is her autopilot will be repaired and she will set forth again, presumably so she can at least claim a straight Youngest Around record. But continuing on in the Southern Ocean as the southern winter sets in is probably too dangerous, particularly as Abby has so far been unable to exploit the speed potential of her lightweight Open 40 racing boat. Even assuming a relatively brief stay in Cape Town, if she keeps sailing at the pace she's maintained so far conditions will be very gnarly south of Australia by the time she gets there. Indeed, things are already pretty rough down there; for Jessica the last leg under Oz was by far the toughest part of her trip. The other alternative is to sail north of Australia in much lower latitudes, but Abby's mom (who earlier stated she considered the Southern Ocean to be much safer than the tropics for teenage girl sailors) may be worried she'll get raped by pirates or something if she goes this route.
In yet another shocking development, my own daughter Lucy, who just turned 5 yesterday, has announced she wants to sail around the world alone and set a YSNSUC record herself. She doesn't quite know how to sail yet, but I reckon we can rig up a remote-control pod with sails and get her around somehow. Sponsors who want to support this effort can contact Lucy via this website.
Finally, I will remind you yet again that my man Alessandro di Benedetto is still out there, sailing north from the Horn under a jury rig, and is still on track to claim an officially recognized record for Smallest Boat to Complete a Solo Non-Stop Unassisted Circumnavigation. Alessandro is the one with the real cojones IMHO (both literally and figuratively), but unfortunately it's hard to follow his voyage closely. His website has little to offer in the way of current information, beyond a satellite tracking position. Still, I encourage you to keep checking him out.
The same goes for Reid Stowe, who is still expects to return to New York on June 17 after 1,150 days at sea non-stop.
PS: I was just kidding about Lucy.
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