Ten years on: What Jessica Watson is up to now
Sailing hero Jessica Watson's latest port-of-call surprises most people.
Watson, who, 10 years ago, made history as the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world, works in the human capital team at accounting firm Deloitte in Melbourne. To further her career, Watson, now 26, recently got her MBA degree.
"For a girl who ran away from school, I really came to love study," Watson told the Herald Sun. "I also realised I wanted a career that would keep that part of me engaged and challenged.
"It's quite interesting because people are often quite surprised to find me in an office. They can't quite put 2 and 2 together," she says, laughing.
"They're always like, 'You're that sailor! What are you doing in this meeting?'"
Ten years ago - on May 15, 2010 - Watson, originally from the Sunshine Coast, sailed into the history books. She spent 210 days at sea in her small boat Ella's Pink Lady, often encountering 70-knot gusts and 10-metre swells.
"It feels like a lifetime ago, and at the same time, it feels like yesterday," she says.
"There's highlights and lowlights, but it's a happy place I can take myself back to. I think about standing at the back of the boat and watching it sail along, and dancing through the waves. It's the simple things that are most vivid now."
Asked if the epic voyage of strong gusts, massive waves and knockdowns (when a sail boat lays over far enough to put the mast in or beneath the water) taught her life lessons, Watson replies: "If people ask how it changed me, and I can never answer. I can't separate myself from this because it's been such a central part of creating who I am. There is no doubt I learned a lot of good from it, especially the audacity to have a go.
"I realise now, how lucky I was to learn how to manage my own head, especially at that age," she says. "The opportunity to test myself and cope with difficult situations has been a good thing. It made me who I am."
There were critics. At the time, her parents Roger and Julie copped a negative barrage about letting a teenage hit the high seas alone.
"It was understandable," Watson says today. "But it was interesting because so little of the criticism was actually helpful.
"My motivation for the trip was to prove what young people, particularly young girls, can do.
Young girls often get dismissed. I wanted to make people stop, think and challenge their expectations."
Watson, who is in a long-term relationship, says if she had a 16-year-old daughter who wanted to take a similar sea voyage, she would probably approve.
"I would be a huge hypocrite if I didn't," she said, laughing. "But it would be incredibly challenging. What I put my parents through was horrendous. It's interesting, because you want to tell your kids they can do anything they set their mind to.
"I just took it further than they thought I would."
After her sailing record, Watson set achievements in other realms. She penned a best selling book, was named Young Australian of the Year, and received Order of Australia honours.
Where does she keep the OAM medal?
"It's in a box, which is not awfully exciting," Watson says. "I've had a few friends saying I really need to wear it, so at some point, I'll get brazen. I've noticed a lot of older guys wearing their medals, so I should probably pluck up the courage to wear mine as well."
Watson is still a keen sailor, but these days, the sport is teaching her different lessons.
"I'm not learning anything too extreme. I'm learning more to relax," Watson says. "It's teaching me to just enjoy being on the water."
Originally published as Ten years on: What Jessica Watson is up to now