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Australian teen sets sail round the world

world Updated: Oct 18, 2009 17:26 IST
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Australian teenager Jessica Watson set off from Sydney Harbour on Sunday on her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Her voyage is controversial following a collision with a 63,000-ton coal carrier last month that maritime safety authorities said highlighted a lack of preparedness for an eight-month solo sail.

Watson's 10.4-metre yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, was dismasted in the accident that came just a day into her journey down the east coast to Sydney to begin her record attempt.

Watson has refused to say whether she was asleep below decks when her fibreglass boat almost sank and needed repairs costing 70,000 Australian dollars ($64,000) to put right.

The mishap prompted a chorus of pleas for her to call off her voyage - calls echoed by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard just as Watson's boat was slipping out of the world-famous harbour.

"Ultimately people have to make their own decisions," Gillard said. "I think a lot of Australians are nervous for Jessica. I'm nervous for Jessica."

Watson hopes to beat a record set 10 years ago by fellow Australian Jesse Martin, who at 18 circumnavigated the globe on his own and unaided.

"I do actually have a lot of experience behind me and I suppose a lot of people don't realize that," Watson told national broadcaster ABC as she stowed a Christmas pudding and other treats below decks.

"You know, the first leg of my trip will be through the Pacific so it's kind of a calmer, easier time for me to get settled in, feel confident with the boat."

Watson sailed east out Sydney Harbour and will traverse the Pacific before taking on the Atlantic and then the Indian Ocean. Her route tracks that of fellow Australian Kay Cottee, who became the first woman to sail solo and unassisted round the world 21 years ago.