Sep

9


About a week ago I was very pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation, completely out of the blue, to join a dinner party being held to honor Jessica Watson on her recent record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe. Jessica, 16 at the time of her journey, is the youngest sailor ever to make the trip solo, non-stop and unassisted.

The dinner was arranged by 13 of Jessica’s most ardent fans, to coincide with her visit to New York. Many of them had posted comments every day to the blog that Jessica maintained throughout her 270 day journey, and when she announced that she would be coming to the US for the launch of her book, “True Spirit“, they arranged to fly in to New York City to meet her for dinner. I had posted several comments and so I was lucky enough to be invited to join them. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity, and headed down to the city on Wed night to meet the gang.

The dinner, which was to be held at Rosie O’Grady’s, a restaurant conveniently close to Times Square, was organized by Bill, from Georgia, who did a stellar job in coordinating with Andrew, Jessica’s manager. When I arrived I saw that all of the “Jessaholics”, as they refer to themselves, were there, having flown in from Maine, Seattle, Georgia and various other parts of the country. Jessica and Andrew arrived right on time, after having first scared the pants off Bill by calling him close to the appointed time and asking him if he was still all set for dinner the following night. Unflappable, he soon learned that they were on their way and, sure enough, they arrived about ten minutes later. We subsequently learned that Andrew and Jessica had a great sense of fun, and loved to play pranks…

As soon as we were seated for dinner, Bill kicked off the order of business by welcoming us all. Andrew called upon us to introduce ourselves, and then we got down to the serious business of eating, drinking, and asking Jess questions about her voyage. Despite having read Jessica’s blog, and seen innumerable pieces in the media about her, we still fascinated to hear from both Andrew and herself the backstory, and some of the technical details of the trip.

Andrew described to us how he had first been introduced to Jessica, and how he had immediately been impressed by her determination, confidence and competence. Our questions came thick and fast, regarding the details of the route that Jess ultimately chose, her rigger, for whom she had nothing but the highest praise, and her choice of vessel. We discussed the knockdowns that she experienced, when the mast of her boat, Ella’s Pink Lady, hit the water during severe storms. Jessica told us that she didn’t have time to be scared, in part because she was too busy to be afraid, but also because she had complete confidence in the design of her yacht, the same design that Jesse Martin had used on his own circumnavigation, several years earlier. Of course, Jess continued, she had also had confidence in her own skills and abilities, and knew she could handle almost any situation that she was likely to encounter.

We also asked questions of serious import, such as whether she missed her favorite foods, the relative merits of Tim Tams and Vegemite, and how she managed to finally get her broken heater repaired. Regarding the latter, we learned how useful it can be to press the reset button. Several of the group were interested to learn how Jess had coped with only being able to sleep for brief periods at a time, often less than an hour, particularly when the weather was tricky, or when she and Pink Lady were in the Pacific, where the ocean topography meant that one minute you could be over a very deep trench and the next minute approaching a reef. The alarms helped, of course, said Jess, and pretty soon she developed a system of opening her eyes, scanning the instruments and radar, and nodding off again if all was well. This led to a brief discussion of the infamous Tanker incident, at the outset of the voyage, which Jessica told us was like the proverbial cloud with a silver lining in that it reaffirmed for her her determination to succeed. It didn’t take her all that long, by the way, to readjust to the normal patterns of teenager sleep once she made it back home !

We discovered how Jess learned to fish, and she shared with us her tips for fishing, although she then confided that some collateral damage turned her off fishing for a while. We learned how she hailed the fellow-sailors she met off Lord Howe Island and how they were somewhat taken aback as she informed them nonchalantly, as she pulled away at 25 knots, that she was ‘out of Brisbane and sailing around the world‘. We also found out the significance of her stuffed animal, Rhino, the link between her speeches she gives and the subsequent press-releases written by Andrew, and why members of her team can be seen cracking up in laughter from time to time…
(She and Andrew pick a word, which she has to use in a talk and then Andrew has to subsequently use in a release; one day, the word was “rhinoceros”. Undaunted, Jessica managed to insert it, twice, into her speech, describing some cataclysmic waves as sounding like a herd of rhinoceroses. Andrew, in response, was able to refer to Jessica being unfazed by her experiences and being as tough as a rhinocereos. Meanwhile, the rest of the team were trying not to explode in laughter…)

We also talked about the book publishing business, the downside of not being able to vote at 16, and how to get a smile from a New York cab driver… I even managed to throw in my joke about God taking a vacation after building the world… Bill also read some letters from friends who were not able to join us and, almost as if on cue, his phone rang – it was Stephen calling from, I believe, Pakistan, where he was working on flood relief efforts, having previously worked in China and Haiti. He had planned to join us, but the disaster relief efforts came, of course, first.

Jess and Andrew were fantastic dinner companions, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The conversation took a serious turn as we talked about what is to come next for Jessica, with Jim very eloquently advising Jessica not to be trapped by the success she has achieved at such a young age. Jess didn’t quite agree with me that there are “no more oceans”, and she clearly has more ambitions that for now she is keeping to herself, but I know she understood what we meant.

While Andrew said that Jess is an ordinary girl, it is clear that she is more than that; she is an extraordinary ordinary girl. Perhaps more significant than her sailing achievement, I believe, is the message that she delivered loud and clear to the naysayers in this world. I sometimes fear that our culture has become too risk-averse, that we mollycoddle and protect our children, and that there are very few pioneers any more. By her accomplishment Jessica has sent a message that one can still pursue a dream single-mindedly, that with the right attitude, preparation and training, one can overcome obstacles and can accomplish almost anything. And even though Abby Sunderland’s dream was unsuccessful, by her attempt she, like Jessica, sent a powerful message, that we can all take control of our lives, that life is for living proudly. As Tennyson wrote,

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!

Jessica is an incredibly accomplished young lady. She is articulate and writes very well, is modest and diplomatic.
She has coped remarkably well with the praise and adulation heaped on her, and with the somewhat strange nature of modern fame. Jess, however, deals with the fame and adulation very well – indeed, it strikes me as if there are almost two Jessicas; the public, iconic, Jessica, who has sailed the world, and then there is the private Jessica, who is just a kid that loves to sail, and who has her own private hopes, dreams, and aspirations. And I think that that’s just as it should be.

So I stand corrected. Jess still has her oceans to cross, and I wish her fair winds and following seas. I have no doubt that she will be successful in whatever future endeavors she undertakes.

I’d like to close by thanking Bill and the gang for organizing the dinner and inviting me to join you. (And for not trying to make us sing the song “I am Australian” !). Thanks, of course, to Jessica and Andrew for making the time to have such a casual and informal dinner with us. And let me end by giving a hearty two thumbs up to Jessica’s book, “True Spirit” – I highly recommend it !

Click here for pictures.


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18 Comments so far

  1. GlobeMasterOne on September 9, 2010 11:08 pm

    Brian…. and dear Jessica should you hopefully read this….you couldn’t have two more disappointed people than West North and myself who received invitations to meet you in NYC and could not make it down from Canada (and it’s not even snowing yet!!) Thanks to Brian (Irishguy) we now know that we missed a beautiful evening….and the opportunity of a lifetime to meet you Jessica and Andrew and Bill (thanks) and fellow bloggers and can only hope that a second opportunity will in time come our way.
    Jesse…all the best with the Long Beach Yacht and Boat show this weekend, your vacation, your book sales in North America and a safe return home. C U Sailor.
    Love you Jesse, John, Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario
    PS GlobeMasterOne is on “stand-by” for your next adventure (?)

  2. H.  Amsterdam; Netherlands on September 10, 2010 12:24 am

    Brian,

    Awesome good of you for the lively description of Jesse’s dinner, not to mention taking the time and care w/ the pics slideshow. Suggestion: will you allow Jesse to copy this entry at length on her blog (quoting you, as opposed to lost in comments)? Think it’ll be of interest, to say the least, w/ many of her fans out everywhere.

    Thanks again.

    H.

    Amsterdam
    Netherlands

  3. Collette Cole, Australia on September 10, 2010 3:14 am

    Brian,

    I would like to thank you for sharing your wonderful evening with Jessica and Andrew with us all.

    Your descriptive account made me feel as if I was there and ‘see’ as if I was a bug on the wall!

    Thanks so much again,
    Collette Cole

  4. Faye and Max on September 10, 2010 4:30 am

    Hi there Brian

    Thank you soo much for your wonderful summery of the night with Jessica, we here in Australia have been hanging out for a report on the night’s activities. The photos are just sensational, Bill has sent us some that we have distributed anoungst the Jessaholics, but these are so good of the dinner its self.
    You can tell by the look on Jessica’s face that she really enjoyed the night, and what a thrill for her to have met so many of her loyal bloggers from the US that have followed her from day 1. Not to mention, of course, the thrill that the US Jessaholics would have in meeting Jessica.
    So pleased the night was a huge success, and thanks once again for taking the time to post your report.

    Cheers from Faye and Max Bartlett.

  5. Georgia Guy on September 10, 2010 6:54 am

    Brian,

    Can’t thank you enough for your kind comments on the evening and the great job you did to get some of the photos up and out for our friends down under and also those here in the states who were unable to make it on Wednesday.

    Very well written and your description certainly captures the flavor of the evening.

    It was indeed a pleasure to meet you in NYC and have you join in on celebrating her wonderful accomplishment.

    Keep in touch,

    Bill
    Georgia Guy
    USA

  6. Frank on September 10, 2010 8:06 am

    I hope you mentioned us in glowing terms and suggested that she might visit glorious Tenterfield in her boat!!

  7. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:22 am

    Hi Frank,
    Jessica was a great ambassador for your adopted country. Maybe some of her charm and pleasant disposition will rub off on you !
    I’m not so sure about her visiting Tenterfield – wouldn’t it take a typhoon to get her boat there ?
    All the best to Noriko and the kids
    Brian

  8. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:23 am

    Bill,
    Thanks again for organizing such an incredible night, and for inviting me to join you.
    Best wishes,
    Brian

  9. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:24 am

    Faye and Maxe,
    Glad that enjoyed the report ! Sorry that you weren’t able to be here, but no doubt you’ll get plenty of opportunities to meet Jesse down under.
    All the best,
    Brian

  10. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:25 am

    Collete,
    Thanks for your kind words. Sorry you couldn’t be here, but I hope you got a good sense of the event from my notes.
    All the best,
    Brian

  11. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:27 am

    H.
    Great to hear from you, and glad you enjoyed reading about the celebration. Jesse is of course welcome to use this post, or excerpt it, and to use any pics that she would like.
    All the best,
    Brian

  12. Brian on September 10, 2010 8:28 am

    John,
    Sorry you couldn’t make it this time. You would have loved it. Best of luck, and stay warm in the wintry snow !
    Brian

  13. Richard Lathrop on September 10, 2010 11:50 am

    Ahoy Brian,
    ’twas a pleasure meeting you at the recetion and I really enjoyed the celtic flavor you added to the event. Did you have any influence on the choice of restaurant?!?
    Thanks for the pictures and the thorough description you provided on your blog.
    stay in touch and help us get Jesse back for future visits–maybe we could even work some sailing into the mix.

    Richard Lathrop

  14. Brian on September 10, 2010 1:09 pm

    Richard,
    Likewise; it was a pleasure to meet you, too. And the restaurant was merely a serendipitous choice !
    I look forward to another dinner after Jessica’s next record-breaking trip :-)
    All the best,
    Brian

  15. Clint Jeffrey on September 10, 2010 10:55 pm

    Hi Brian,
    Your description was just great, many thanks indeed, it placed me right back at the beginning when all this started by reading your account of the night was like looking through fresh eyes on everything thats about Jessica Rose Waston….

    I find it a little funny that this is the first time I’m hearing about you too…

    Cheers mate…

    Clint – Melbourne Town

  16. Janell in Oklahoma, USA on September 13, 2010 1:32 am

    Hello Brian,

    It was a pleasure to meet you in NYC along with other US Jessaholics. For all of us, it was a grand evening!

    Thank you ever so much for your thorough summary of our ‘dinner with Jessica’ –you have said it all, and in such a way that even those of us who were there will enjoy reading and re-living that evening over and over again!

    Until the next Jessaholic gathering,
    Cheers,

    Janell in OK

  17. Carol Mosier on September 8, 2011 11:16 pm

    Dear Brian,

    Just want you to know that we’re STILL enjoying your recap of the New York Dinner in honor of Jess, and that took place 1 year ago!!

    What a brilliant and complete picture you “paint” through your blog post! Those of us who were not able to attend, especially appreciate the amount of detail you include, and the wonderful photographs . . . still relevant one year later, and still much appreciated by all of us!!!

    Thank you for taking the time to document the evening for posterity!! (at least for our future generations)

    Carol Florida U.S.A.

  18. Brian on September 27, 2011 1:45 pm

    Hi Carol,
    Thank you guys for organizing the dinner and inviting me. It was a pity you weren’t able to attend yourself, but I am glad that my post helped you enter the spirit of the evening!
    All the best,

    Brian

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