JES­SICA’S JOUR­NEY

WHEN JES­SICA WAT­SON WAS 10 SHE HID UN­DER A TA­BLE ON THE FAM­ILY BOAT DUR­ING A STORM. SIX YEARS LATER HER PAR­ENTS TRUSTED HER ENOUGH TO LET HER SAIL THE WORLD ALONE

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

HOW JES­SICA WAT­SON WENT FROM TIMID TEEN TO QUEEN OF THE SEA

AN

em­broi­dered sloop sails east across Jes­sica Wat­son’s pil­low. Her bed is made. A flotilla of yachts passes light­houses on her doona cover. At the foot of the bed is a col­lage of faded pic­tures cut from mag­a­zines and sticky-taped to the wall with care; square and rec­tan­gu­lar im­ages of waves and sail­boats. And peo­ple on sail­boats crash­ing through waves. And waves crash­ing over sail­boats. Ter­ri­fy­ing rogue waves. Mon­strous dark killers. The stuff of night­mares. The stuff of dreams. “That’s Jes­sica’s cabin,” says Roger Wat­son, who, no mat­ter the oceanic prow­ess of his sec­ond child, re­mains the proud cap­tain of Home Abroad, the fam­ily’s 12m mo­tor cruiser berthed at the Mooloolaba Ma­rina on Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast.

“I was stand­ing here,” he says, in the door­way to the boat’s gal­ley. “And she was there… ” The sleep­ing space that Jes­sica shared with her elder sis­ter Emily is the size of a small two-per­son tent, split by a wooden di­vider. Jes­sica’s bed is lined with sail­ing tro­phies, sport­ing rib­bons and books about oceans. “That’s where she told me what she wanted to do.”

Emily was the first per­son Jes­sica told. Home Abroad was at an­chor in north Queens­land, and the girls had their heads on their pil­lows look­ing up at a sky sprin­kled with stars. Jes­sica made a point of sound­ing se­ri­ous. She didn’t want her sis­ter to be­lit­tle the dream, to cast it aside as an­other starry-eyed wish. Emily thought for a moment. My dyslexic sis­ter who can barely read or write wants to be­come the youngest per­son to sail solo and unas­sisted non-stop around the world. My twig­legged sis­ter with the fear of wa­ter wants to round Cape Horn alone; wants to brave the At­lantic. Mag­el­lan. Sir Francis Drake. Wil­liam Dampier. Jess. “Well,” she said. “If you’re se­ri­ous about it, then that’s cool.” Emily was the first to be­lieve. Jes­sica was 12 years old. She smiled at Emily, then 13, and re­turned her gaze to the sky. The map of her life was etched in the stars.

Roger Wat­son straight­ens the corner of a doona. “I said, ‘Yes, of course you can do it.’ Be­cause I knew her de­ter­mi­na­tion. But I al­ways hoped for a long time that she wouldn’t. I had a lot of fear.” In the early weeks of his daugh­ter’s seven-month, 24,285-nau­ti­cal mile solo cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world, Roger couldn’t stom­ach look­ing out to sea; he was phys­i­cally in­ca­pable of it. End­less fa­ther-daugh­ter pre-sail trips be­tween the fam­ily home in Bud­erim and the Mooloolaba work shed had brought him closer to Jes­sica than ever be­fore. He fi­nally un­der­stood her. The shy girl had bloomed, and let him into her com­plex, imag­i­na­tive world. A place his wife Julie can de­scribe only as “so … very … Jess”.

By the time Jes­sica, then 16, set off on her jour­ney last Oc­to­ber, her fa­ther, a boil­er­maker who had made some good money on real es­tate, was fi­nan­cially, emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally spent. He wasn’t sleep­ing. He’d grown para­noid about the vol­un­teer work­ers who helped pre­pare Jes­sica’s boat, Ella’s Pink Lady. “Quite of­ten I would stay back at the boat af­ter­wards and have a look at what they’d done. There were peo­ple that I didn’t know. This is my daugh­ter. Ev­ery nut and bolt, ev­ery last screw, I would check. Ev­ery con­tin­gency was planned for, but there was still that thought that when we waved her good­bye it could have been … good­bye, you know? Jess might not have been com­ing back.”

He walks through the gal­ley, where a bread board and some used plates are stacked on the bench. “Sorry about the mess,” he says. “We’ve been a lit­tle busy.” He re­calls the first real storm Home Abroad faced, sail­ing north to Her­vey Bay. He re­calls a ter­ri­fied Jes­sica, then 10, hid­ing be­neath the gal­ley ta­ble, nurs­ing the fam­ily bird Mag­gie. Jess was fright­ened of the wa­ter. She feared its power, its un­pre­dictabil­ity. “But she had this very un­canny abil­ity to read the wind and the weather, even from a young age,” says Roger. “And when she was at sea she said to me – and it sounds stupid – but I think be­fore the waves got big she could ac­tu­ally feel what the weather was do­ing. A sea sense. She said she sailed around the world with her ear.” He smiles. “She was a very, very … dif­fer­ent child,” he says, rais­ing an eye­brow.

Jes­sica comes aboard, fol­lowed by her boyfriend and fel­low solo cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tor Mike Per­ham. They’ve driven down from the Bud­erim house, where Jes­sica

&

WOR DS T R E N T DA LT ON P I C T URE S R US S E L L S H A K E S PE A R E

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.