Jessica Watson (Buderim, Queensland, Australia) is among Cruising Club of America’s (CCA) 2017 award recipients selected for outstanding contributions to the sport of sailing and the history of yachting. Watson won the Young Voyager Award, which was introduced in 2017 and recognizes “a young sailor who has made one or more exceptional voyages.” In Watson’s case, she completed a southern hemisphere non-stop around the world voyage – solo and unassisted – at the age of 16. She is now 25.
“With the club’s impressive history and award alumni, it’s humbling to receive this award,” said Watson. “If you truly want to live life, you have to get involved, pursue your passions and dream big.”
Watson was born in Queensland, Australia to a sailing family. Sailing lessons at an early age and living aboard a cabin cruiser no doubt set the stage for what was to follow. A bedtime story about the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, read to her at age 11, sparked her desire to do the same.
Five years later, after intense preparation, Watson left Sydney Harbor in her Sparkman & Stephens 34 Ella’s Pink Lady. Watson headed northeast and crossed the equator near Jarvis Island, rounded Kiritimati, and then headed southeasterly, rounding Cape Horn on January 13, 2010. East of the Falkland Islands, Watson suffered her first of four knockdowns. She rounded the Cape of Good Hope on February 24 and continued without incident until she was south of Australia where she experienced at least three more knockdowns. Watson continued sailing south of Tasmania, and then turned north to Sydney, completing in 210 days her southern hemisphere around-the-world voyage three days before her 17th birthday. She had indeed done it solo, non-stop and unassisted.
Watson was named Young Australian of the Year 2011 and led the youngest ever crew to participate in the challenging Sydney to Hobart Race, finishing second in her division. She was awarded the Jane Tate Trophy for being the first female to skipper a boat in the race. Watson has accepted the Order of Australia: It is the highest award that nation can give