Sunshine Coast teenager Jessica Watson has had to put her plans to sail solo around the world on hold.
Sunshine Coast teenager Jessica Watson has had to put her plans to sail solo around the world on hold. Brett Wortman

Weather won't be the best for Jess

THE weather bureau says teenage solo sailor Jessica Watson could face difficult conditions on her way to Sydney.

The 16-year-old from the Sunshine Coast has defied public calls for her to abandon her expedition following concerns about her experience and ability after she collided with a 63,000-tonne cargo vessel off North Stradbroke Island on September 9.

She set sail on a four to five-day sea trial from the Gold Coast to Sydney at 5.30am (AEST) on Thursday.

Jessica Watson is set to sail

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Gavin Holcombe said conditions were initially favourable but would turn against her.

“Initially she will face good conditions in that she will have a northerly wind behind her and that will push her a fair way down the coast,” Mr Holcombe said.

“But by the time she gets probably halfway down the NSW coast she is going to start running into south-easterlies and fairly fresh south-easterlies too, so it won’t be the best conditions overall.”

Ms Watson is expected to arrive in Sydney on Monday and spend several days there before heading off on her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Jessica quietly slipped out of the Gold Coast amid warnings from a seasoned sailor she will have to overcome 'elemental fear' to conquer the world.
 
She evaded the media glare this morning as she departed from a family friend's private pontoon in Runnaway Bay.
 
The teenage adventurer's spokesman, Andrew Fraser, said Watson was certainly keen to leave behind the media storm that had followed her of late.
 
"That was part of the strategy," Mr Fraser told brisbanetimes.com.au.
 
"Jessica had a good night's rest and was up first thing this morning, itching to go. She was very anxious to get going yesterday morning, but her family wanted her to have one more good night's sleep."

Watson conducted sea trials of her yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, off the Gold Coast after repairs following her collision with 63,000-tonnecargo vessel off North Stradbroke Island on September 9.
 
Mr Fraser said the tests had shown the repairs had been successful and new equipment worked well.

On Wednesday, Noosa yachtsman Ray “Bones” Murray warned her that she might not make it back.

Mr Murray was talking from experience- he circumnavigated the globe between 1985 and 88 sailing around the temperate zone in a yacht he built in Noosa.

The old salt also recently spent three days wedged in the bottom of a 14 metre Beneteau yacht being smashed by a fierce storm in the Southern Ocean.

He said where Jessica was going would be even rougher and the 16-year-old sailor would need to be able to master the “elemental fear” that came with being at sea in a ferocious storm.

“Down there, the average wind speed is 40 knots. Storms come through there on the regular basis with wind speeds exceeding 80 to 90 knots,” Mr Murray said.

“Where Jessica is going, that is normal weather. To go there on your own you have to be good. You have to be tough and overcome that elemental fear.”

Mr Murray said there was a strong possibility Jessica and her 10.23 metre yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, would not make it back to Australia in tact.
 
“The issue is if she is going to survive this voyage,” Mr Murray said.

“If she has had some solid experience in short handed sailing, if she is capable of repairing damage to the boat en-route, if she has general seamanship, understanding of electronics, there is an increased chance of her surviving.”

Jessica has more than 10,000 nautical miles under her belt and numerous formal qualifications in sailing, radar use, radio operating, maintaining diesel engines and first aid.

She will set off from the Gold Coast to Sydney some time today.

Mr Fraser said a media conference would be held in Sydney on Wednesday.

“Then we will do some last minute fine tuning, check the weather and make a call on when to go three days out,” he said.

Jessica should be sailing out of Sydney Heads sometime during the next two weeks.
 
She will travel 23,000 nautical miles through some of the world’s most treacherous seas, including 4,000 nautical miles of open waters in the Southern Ocean.

Mr Murray experienced the sudden and unpredictable fury of the Southern Ocean about six weeks ago when he and a friend were sailing the Great Australian Bight from Port Lincoln in South Australia to Esperance in Western Australia.

When they left Port Lincoln, the five day forecast showed reasonable weather. But on the fifth day, 12 hours from their destination, the storm hit.
 
“In 50 minutes there were 57 knot winds. The ocean was white foam and the noise was horrendous. There were massive waves crunching down testing the boat to its maximum, so we turned back,” he said.

“The only safe place was the floor of the boat with our feet on one side and backs on the other. We stayed like that for three days.”

Mr Murray said another big factor in attempting a solo voyage was sleep deprivation.

He spent three years and sailed 35,000 nautical miles around the temperate zone of the globe.

One of his greatest challenges was sailing solo from the Galapagos Island west of Ecuador to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. For 28 days he survived on cat naps spaced 30 minutes apart.

“Every 30 minutes I would walk onto the deck have a good look around, bellow something into the radio to report my position. By the end of it I was a lot thinner I probably lost 12 to 14 kilos even though I was eating just as much if not more than usual.”

“If you are sailing solo, not sleeping is the only option you have if you want to keep a vigilant watch.”

Mr Fraser said Mr Murray was entitled to his opinions but they were unfounded.

“The boat is the safest vessel possible. All preparations have been done by professionals. I don’t want to get into technical details. A lot of the things we are doing we would prefer to keep private. But the preparations have been very good and we have consulted professionals over a long period of time."


 


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