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October 19, 2009

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Aussie teen sailor starts round-the-world quest

A 16-YEAR-OLD Australian steered her bright pink yacht out of Sydney Harbor yesterday to start her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world.

Jessica Watson's plan to make a 38,000-kilometer journey through some of the world's most treacherous waters sparked a debate in Australia about whether someone so young should be allowed to try such a potentially dangerous feat.

Watson and her family insist she is an experienced and capable sailor who has studied navigation, electronics and maritime safety procedures. Although she will sail solo and unassisted, she will be in constant contact with her support team via radio, e-mail and a blog.

The teenager did not speak with reporters before she left, and it was her mom who first updated the Internet diary yesterday.

"I know you are all anxious to hear from Jess, but she's a little preoccupied on her first day, so she asked me to post a quick note to let everyone know that the departure went well this morning," Julie Watson wrote on the blog only hours after giving her daughter a tearful hug and saying goodbye.

Watson sailed her pink, 10-meter yacht out of Sydney under gray skies and slightly choppy conditions. She smiled and waved to scores of well-wishers on land and in boats that had gathered.

Last month, her yacht collided with a cargo ship as she sailed toward Sydney to make final preparations - an accident that triggered calls for her to abandon the attempt.

Andrew Fraser, a spokesman for Watson's team, yesterday dodged questions about whether the trip was too dangerous for someone so young, saying "Let's have this conversation in eight months."


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