A 16-year-old Australian steered her bright pink yacht out of Sydney Harbor under gray skies and slightly choppy conditions today to start her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world. Jessica Watson's 23,600-mile journey through some of the world's most treacherous waters sparked debate about whether someone so young should be allowed to try such a dangerous feat.
Watson and her family insist she is an experienced sailor who will be in constant contact with her support team via radio, email, and a blog. Watson's first leg will take her past northern New Zealand, then Fiji and Samoa. In a trip expected to last about eight months, she plans to pass the southern tips of Africa and South America. Briton Mike Perham, 17, in August laid claim to being the youngest solo round-the-world sailor after completing a 28,000-mile trip in nine months, though he stopped for repairs, which counts as an "assisted" trip. (Read more sailor stories.)