Round the world sailor Jessica Watson arrives in Sydney

Home is the Heroine, Home from the Sea...

Well, she did it.

You had only to observe the huge crowds waiting around the foreshores of Sydney harbour to see that, whatever many thought of a 16-year-old girl setting off alone to sail around the world, they now accepted Jessica Watson as their very own hero.
Tens of thousands waving flags and calling her name gave Jessica, the youngest person to sail unassisted around the world – and into the history books – a rock star welcome when she moored her yacht beside Sydney Opera House.
Battling enormous waves at times, fighting boredom during calm weather and dismissing the words of critics who said she would never do it, the plucky teenager spent seven months at sea and travelled 23,000 nautical miles to achieve a childhood dream.
When she collided with a cargo ship off the Queensland coast while preparing for her incredible journey, dire warnings were expressed that her quest to sail around the world was doomed to failure. Experienced sailors said she’d be lucky to even get away from Australian waters.
But as her 34ft yacht Pink Lady was escorted into the harbour by a flotilla of dozens of spectator craft her critics were silenced.
Her achievement at becoming the youngest person to sail around the world unassisted has set her up for hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorships, a documentary and a book – and won the hearts of most Australians including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
He was at the Opera House, along with other politicians, Jessica’s parents Julie and Roger who had travelled to Sydney from their Queensland home, and captains of industry as the tiny yacht battled through one last hurdle – heavy seas and a torn mainsail as she came through the mouth of the outer harbour, delaying her expected arrival by two hours.
Despite the incredible welcome she received, Jessica insisted that her achievement was not about setting a record but following a dream. ‘I’m still just Jess,’ she said by satellite phone as she neared her destination.
‘She was always going to be “our Jess”, despite this achievement’ said her mother as, with the Opera House in sight at the end of her voyage, the teenager, overwhelmed by the enormous welcome, commented: ‘I think there’s going to be a great party.’
Her voyage will not be registered as a record in any case in order to discourage ambitious parents pushing younger children off to sea.
What she wanted to do was prove to other young people that they did not have to be anyone special to achieve something big. ‘You just have to want it,’ she said.
Once she has recovered her landlubber legs, Jessica plans to celebrate with English teenager Mike Perham and Australian Jesse Martin, two young sailors who hold solo circumnavigation records.
Among the crowds was 89-year-old Patrick Lee who, dressed in Australian flags, sailing badges and a Neptune pitchfork, said: ‘I’m an old bloke who’s turned up to say thanks for what Jessica did. It’s an amazing achievement and an inspiration to both young and old.’
In her blog as she neared the Australian coast, Jessica wrote jokingly that she was going to miss getting up and going sailing every day.
‘I’m going to miss the kick I get from overcoming challenges by myself, flying along in the dark.
‘A new sunset every night and the time I always take to watch it. I’m going to miss watching the waves and sea.
‘I know it’s been nearly seven months and I’m still not bored by it.’
Her parents were the first to greet her as she stepped onto a pink carpet on the Opera House forecourt. The tears flowed as she told them how happy she was to see them again.
They laughed as she struggled to stand up after so many weeks at sea.
‘You’re back and you did it,’ said her mother.
Jessica brushed back a tear as she turned to look at the yacht that had served her so faithfully during her epic voyage that had begun and ended in Sydney.
Prime Minister Rudd gave Jessica a hug in front of the enormous crowd at the Opera House, then described her as ‘Australia’s newest hero.’
Welcoming her back to dry land, he said she might feel a little wobbly on her feet but in the eyes of all Australians she now stood tall.
‘You are a hero for all Australians, for all Australian women,’ he said. ‘You do our nation proud…you have lived your dream.’
Mr Rudd added: ‘This is a great day for our country. You do all of our hearts proud.’
Jessica had one simple message for the crowd, the nation – and the world:
‘If you have a dream, follow it. No matter how hard it might seem, just follow it.’