Australian Jessica Watson’s list of accomplishments rivals that of people decades older than her 20 years. After completing her record-setting sail in 2010, Jessica was awarded the title of Young Australian of the Year and received an Order of Australia Medal. She wrote a book on her journey, “True Spirit,” and a feature film of the same name is currently in the works.
Though her accomplishments at sea signal otherwise, Jessica says she was scared of the water as a child. She soon began to like it and became inspired by a book her mother read to her about a young Australian sailor. By age 12, she decided she wanted to make her own attempt at circling the globe.
“I wanted to show the world that young people can achieve incredible things when they put their minds to it,” she said.
She says the years leading up to her sail were all about preparation, as she worked on gaining experience and sailing in the Pacific Ocean. When the time came for her trip, she was ready for the daunting task ahead of her.
Jessica sailed out of the Sydney port on 18 October, 2009 to sail the roughly 23,000 nautical miles around the world. To hold the status of an around-the-world sailor, Jessica had to cross all lines of longitude, pass over the equator, enter the Northern Hemispheres and round the capes of both South America and South Africa. Jessica hit all of these landmarks, sailing back into Sydney nearly seven months later on 15 May, 2010.
There were times that I definitely got scared,” Jessica said. “There were pretty amazing and pretty scary things out there. But I had so much faith in my boat.”
When she returned, Jessica knew she wanted to help other young people achieve their dreams like she had been able to do. “For me to give back and realize, at such a young age, that I was so lucky to have all of my dreams come true, you sort of realize at that point, what would be better than making or helping to make other people’s dreams come true?” she said.
She later became WFP’s Youth Representative, traveling to Laos in 2011 to visit a school meals programme. The hunger situation in Laos was of particular interest because of how close the country is to Australia, Jessica said.
“Laos was amazing,” Jessica said. “You go in there with so many expectations, but it’s not until you really get there that you see how it is, what’s going on, and, of course, the families, the schools and the programmes. You can see that they’re affecting the kids and the community at very amazing levels.”
Jessica said she was most amazed and inspired by WFP’s logistics operations during her trip. “You sort of think it’s just handing out food, but there’s so much more to it,” she said.
Today, Jessica lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is still sailing as much as possible and hopes for more opportunities to travel. In the nearly four years since her journey around the world, Jessica remains passionate about encouraging young people to achieve their goals. She’s currently focusing her studies with the online Open University on social and youth work areas.
Her advice to other young people? Don’t let anything hold you back from achieving your dreams. “Dream big, and grow forward,” she said. “If you set your mind to it, and you work hard and have the right people around you, what you can achieve is pretty incredible.”
To learn more about Jessica and her work, visit her website here.