Jessica Watson returns to Australian waters

After six months and nearly 20,000 miles of sailing, 16-year-old Jessica Watson is nearing the end of her solo circumnavigation. She entered Australian waters yesterday and has less than 4,000 miles left in her attempt to become the youngest circumnavigator.

Though the World Sailing Speed Record Council no longer recognizes the title of “Youngest Around,” that has not deterred Watson from her quest. On her training voyage, she collided with a tanker just outside Sydney Harbour. After repairs on Ella’s Pink Lady, her S&S34, Watson set out once more and has since experienced months of challenging sailing. There have been high winds, messy seas, emergency repairs and even a knockdown in the Southern Ocean, but Watson now approaches the homestretch in good spirits.

Over the weekend, Watson received a pleasant surprise when her family flew over her boat and engaged in a long family reunion via VHF. If all goes well, Watson should be at the Sydney Opera House around the first week of May, when her family can have their first real get-together in months.

Until then, Watson will sail south of Tasmania, skipping the Bass Strait because of the high shipping traffic, and then head north to Sydney. It’s too soon to predict the exact date of her arrival, but it’s looking to be up to seven weeks earlier than planned. To follow Jessica on her journey, check out her blog.

Even if Jessica lays claim to the unofficial “Youngest Round” title, she’s got competition hot on her heels. Abby Sunderland, who is six months Watson’s junior, has rounded Cape Horn and is about 900 miles northeast of the Falkland Islands in the Southern Atlantic. Laura Dekker, a 14-year-old from the Netherlands, has announced plans to make her own record-setting attempt within the year. The race to be the youngest continues.

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