OUR girl is back.
Just after 1.30pm yesterday, teenage around-the-world sailor Jessica Watson sailed up to the Mooloolaba Yacht Club to a hero’s welcome.
From Caloundra to Alexandra Headland, thousands of Jess’s fans turned out to cheer her home, cramming every vantage point to turn the beaches, lookouts and rock walls into a sea of pink.
For Jess, her arrival back on the Sunshine Coast marked her “real homecoming”.
About 4000 people crowded the beach outside the Mooloolaba Surf Club for her civic welcome, young and old cheering for the petite sailor as she took to the stage.
“It’s great to be home,” Jess told the crowd.
“This is where it all started for me and it was with the support of this community, the Sunshine Coasters, that really got me there and supported me right from the beginning.
“Coming home to a perfect Sunshine Coast day like this was quite enough, so to have this amazing welcome ... it’s all just a bit much.
“It’s enough just to be home and this amazing welcome on top is simply amazing.
“I’ve been dreaming of a day like this for a very long time.”
A tired Jess said she was looking forward to some quiet family dinners and early nights and sleeping in her own bed “for the first time in a long time”.
Catching up with friends was also high on her agenda, as was getting back on the water as a sailing instructor.
Jess told the crowd the hardest thing to cope with when she was out at sea was getting a bad forecast.
“You worry, you don’t know how bad it’s going to be,” she said.
“Of course, once you’re in the thick of it you go with it, so it’s no big deal.”
Jess said she had a great week sailing home from Sydney accompanied by her mentor, Coast sailing stalwart Bruce Arms, her rumoured boyfriend, fellow around-the-world sailor, Mike Perham, and her brother, Tom.
“It was really great to sail with Bruce. It was a lot of fun,” Jess said.
“We stopped a few places along the way, too, and it was great to see some sunshine and go to the beach.”
For the next month Jess said she would be busy finishing her book and documentary, to be launched in late July at the Sydney International Boat Show. Getting used to fame had also been a struggle.
“It takes a bit of getting used to, particularly after spending so much time by myself,” Jess said.
However, she was adamant that she was “the same old Jess”.
“Yeah, it (the journey) has changed me in little ways, but I’m still the same person in a lot of ways, too. Plus I’m eight months older and there’s a difference between being a 16 and a 17-year-old girl.
“What I’ve really learnt is that life is just about having fun. Don’t take things too seriously.”
Though she was happy to be home, Jess said there was a “big part” of her that wanted to jump back on her yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, and sail back out to sea. She said she was desperate to travel and see the world “not on a boat”.
“I will miss being out on the water and being on Ella’s Pink Lady,” Jess said.
“But saying that, I am very glad to be home.”
Premier Anna Bligh said Jess embodied everything Queensland stands for. She said Jess was a “pioneer” who had the spirit to do anything she believed in.
“You’ve inspired me, you’ve inspired the people around us here and most importantly, you’ve inspired people here in your home town.”