Thursday, 6 May 2010

What has she achieved - anything?

Jessica Watson is sixteen. She will be seventeen about a week from now. If she is lucky she will spend her birthday with her family.
As I write this Jessica is sailing up the eastern coast of Australia. It is some of the roughest water in the world. She is not just tired, she is exhausted - both physically and mentally. She has spent the last eight months at sea - on her own.
Jessica has sailed around the world in a little, very little, pink boat. Or has she? Jessica has crossed the equator and the Pacific and gone around Tierra del Fuego and across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean. She has managed to right her little boat at least six times. She has replaced the mast.
Jessica has battled gale force winds and thirty foot waves. She is battered and bruised and she still has a week or so to go.
I think her parents were totally crazy to let her do it - but they did. I think Jessica is mad to even want to do it - but she did. I think she is going to find it tremendously hard to settle down again and accept the external discipline of the rest of the world. Let's face it, after all this time at sea, even crossing the street is going to be something she has to get used to again.
Despite all that I admire Jessica. I admire her courage and her tenacity and her will power, her maturity and strength of character. There are very few teenagers, indeed very few adults, who could set out on a much less dangerous and demanding solo adventure and make it to the end.
If Jessica makes it into Sydney harbour about a week for now I am not going to try and say she did not achieve anything because she has achieved a lot.
But now, as she comes into the last few days of her voyage, there are a raft of critical comments being heard in the media. There are claims she has not actually technically sailed around the world (because she did not go 1,500 nautical miles above equator) even though she has sailed 23,000 nautical miles. Some fancy sailing organisation says she cannot claim the record because of this and because she is - wait for it - too young. She apparently has to be 18 to claim the record - so Jesse Martin gets to keep the record.
All these comments are coming to light now - at the end of her voyage. They were not given media coverage at the beginning. Why now? Why do it anyway?
It seems we love to knock achievers but this is more than knocking one achiever. This time it is knocking an entire generation of young people. This is saying, "It does not matter if you do go out and pursue your dreams. It does not matter if you succeed. We are not going to acknowledge that. We are only interested if you do not achieve and we can speak about you in the negative."
Does it matter or doesn't it?
I think it might matter a great deal more than we are willing to admit.


Tony said...

I suspect that once she actually arrives, the positive comments will overwhelm the negative remarks. I also doubt that she will actually care; this kind of journey is rarely just for the sake of statistics. She will just be happy that she achieved something that many people (me included) thought she shouldn't have done. Good on her ;)

penjandrum said...

I agree with Tony. I doubt if the record as such will matter to her personally.
What does matter is that she has done something quite wonderful.
And yes, I was one of those, too, who thought it unwise to do it in the first place.
She will have this achievement for the rest of her life, and she will have every right to feel proud.


catdownunder said...

I agree with both of you in respect of Jessica's own achievement but I wonder what sort of effect the negativity will have on other teenagers, especially those lacking in self-confidence and with poor self-images.

Donna Hosie said...

I agree with your other commentators. Jessica is a remarkable young woman and the positive comments will drown the few negative ones.

Negativity, cynicism and downright nastiness though is part of life. Grow a thick skin and just get on with it, I say. The good will always outweigh the bad.

Sheep Rustler said...

I admit to being very critical of her at first, when she had a trial run and crashed the boat (does one 'crash' a boat?) But I have been impressed at her willingness of learn from that (rather major) mistake and think she has done an excellent job. Would I let my 16 year old do it? No, but she wouldn't want to. Jessica obviously does want to. Is it dangerous? Yes, but at least she is getting some exercise and doing something courageous. Does the world record thing matter? PRobably not in the long run. Has her schooling suffered? She doesn't sound like a very academic kid, from what I have read, and therefore this has probably taught her more than sitting in school being bored. I'm not sure that her achievements will impact negatively on other people, or if they do, they are people who would be equally easily discouraged by a lot of other examples. I think on the whole she has done a brave and difficult thing, even if I did disapprove of her doing it in the first place!

catdownunder said...

Have to agree that she has probably managed to learn more out of school than in school - pity that real life often requires bits of paper!
I would really like it if her example set off a bunch of kids saying "we CAN do it".

Vanessa Gebbie said...

It is an incredible thing to do, and she is a remarkable young woman. Her parents are remarkable people as well - society doesn't take kindly to those who don't abide by their 'rules'. Would I let my child do it? Yes.

I guess, however, that she was aware of the routes you had to take to qualify technically for a round-the-world trip, before she went.. and she can't break that 'rule' herself and expect the goalposts to be changed, just for her, no matter how young she is.

The rule that makes no sense is the refusal to acknowledge the attempt, because of age. Unless it is there to discourage wannabes and wannabes parents?

catdownunder said...

Apparently she knew all that Vanessa - and it does not bother her (why should it? I think she is amazing.) What was bugging me was the way that other people were using it to try and suggest that she had somehow failed, instead of saying, "Bloody good job" and "Well done" and thereby encouraging other young people to do it. But, that's life - positive comment would not have been considered newsworthy.