Published in The Sydney Morning Herald Weekend on July 23, 2016
Jessica Watson was just 16 when she became the youngest person ever to sail solo and unassisted around the world and now, at 23, she has her sights set on conquering what she expects to be an even greater challenge than her legendary voyage.
When the Queenslander sailed back into Sydney Harbour in May of 2010, she was on the high of her life.
“Of course I was very young. A 16-year-old is a 16-year-old, but the big thing was that there were so many years of preparation. I was ready when I left,” she said.
“I’d come off the boat and I’d spent years with absolutely all my focus on making this voyage happen, so there was a huge amount of adrenaline for quite a few years.”
When Watson returned from her 210-day journey, which took her over 23,000 nautical miles, she was one of the most recognised faces in Australia.
She went on an international book tour for her novel True Spirit, skippered the youngest crew ever to compete in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, was awarded Young Australian of the Year in 2011, and was honoured with an OAM in 2012.
Now, Watson is focusing on another big challenge.
“It’s funny, people want me to say ‘I’m sailing around the world backwards’ or to the moon this time, but the crazy thing is for me that that would almost be the easy thing to do,” she said.
“I wanted to put myself completely out of my comfort zone, which is still within the marine industry and what I love, and take on a completely different challenge.”
Deckee.com is a venture that Watson said got her attention from the start, and as the communications manager, she is working hard to get it off the ground.
“It’s something that immediately struck a chord because as a sailor, as a boatie who is out on the water often, I could immediately see that there’s a need for this,” she said.
Watson described Deckee.com as, essentially, a marine TripAdvisor.
“Boaties” can review marine businesses, vessels, locations, products and services, or view others’ reviews on the site.
“Boating has this incredible word-of-mouth culture, they love sharing their recommendations and opinions and helping each other out,” she said.
“The marine industry still has these gorgeous guides, big thick guides of areas, but we want to give boaties that platform and community online.”
The first version of Deckee was actually launched over a year ago and it became an award-winning site, but Watson said the new site allows for greater possibilities.
“We’ve completely started fresh which is a pretty brave thing to do when we had an award-winning website,” she said, “but it didn’t enable us to scale up in the way that we want to.This new technology is going to give us this incredible ability to map out the boating industry and answer people’s questions in a sort of Google-like fashion.”
Watson is also doing her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) on the weekends between working full-time for Deckee.
“It’s a challenge because obviously there’s so much going on with Deckee at the moment,” she said.
“Studying is a bit odd for a girl who sailed around the world, but I managed to finish school and do my degree,”
Watson is expected to make an appearance at this year’s Sydney International Boat Show, which starts on Thursday, July 28.
The boat show is always a favourite with Australia’s marine community, and Watson said she’s keen to keep up the tradition.
“The show is something I’ve been involved in for years, right back before I sailed around the world,” she said.
“They were really supportive and I have really fond memories, so it’s exciting to be going back this year with a new project.”