Skip to Main Content

True Spirit

The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World

About The Book

*Now a Netflix film* The inspiring true story of Jessica Watson—an Australian teenager who set out to sail solo around the world!

On May 15, 2010, after 210 days at sea and more than 22,000 nautical miles, 16-year-old Jessica Watson sailed her 33-foot boat triumphantly back to land. She had done it. She was the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, and nonstop around the world.

Jessica spent years preparing for this moment, years focused on achieving her dream. Yet only eight months before, she collided with a 63,000-ton freighter. It seemed to many that she’d failed before she’d even begun, but Jessica brushed herself off, held her head high, and kept going.

Told in Jessica’s own words, True Spirit is the story of her epic voyage. It tells how a young girl, once afraid of everything, decided to test herself on an extraordinary adventure that included gale-force winds, mountainous waves, hazardous icebergs, and extreme loneliness on a vast sea, with no land in sight and no help close at hand. True Spirit is an inspiring story of risk, guts, determination, and achievement that ultimately proves we all have the power to live our dreams—no matter how big or small.


A note from the author

Thanks to all the people who have followed my blog. When I was putting this book together with my publisher, I started to rewrite the story of the voyage in a more traditional way, but it didn’t work. I lost something doing this. Instead, I decided to include the blogs, though they have been edited sometimes, and then expand on them to reveal things I wasn’t quite ready to talk about when I was at sea and to share things I have learned since. I hope you enjoy reading about my whole journey, not just my 210 days on the ocean.

It can get a bit confusing but throughout this book I have used miles to measure distances on land, and nautical miles to measure distances at sea.

1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles

All temperatures are given in degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve tried to explain the sailing terms as I go, but I have also included a glossary at the back of the book—I hope you find it helpful.

Jessica Watson, 2010

Chart of Jessica’s circumnavigation

  1. 1. Departed from Sydney, October 18, 2009

  2. 2. Crossed the equator, November 19, 2009

  3. 3. Caught my first (and only) fish, November 23, 2009

  4. 4. Christmas at Point Nemo—the farthest point from any land

  5. 5. Rounded Cape Horn, January 13, 2010

  6. 6. Experienced four knockdowns in the South Atlantic Ocean, January 23, 2010

  7. 7. Passed south of Cape Town and Cape Agulhas, February 23, 2010

  8. 8. Roughly halfway between Cape Agulhas and Cape Leeuwin, March 19, 2010

  9. 9. Sailed under Cape Leeuwin, back in Australian waters, April 11, 2010

  10. 10. Wild seas rounding Tasmania, May 2, 2010

  11. 11. Arrived back in Sydney Harbour, May 15, 2010

What is it in the sea life which is so powerful in its influence? … It whispers in the wind of the veldt, it hums in the music of the tropical night … above all it is there to the man who holds the nightwatch alone at sea. It is the sense of things done, of things endured, of meanings not understood; the secret of the Deep Silence, which is of eternity, which the heart cannot speak.

From Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia
by H. Warington Smyth (1867–1943)


A half-moon had risen, giving the sea a silvery sheen above the darkness below. After sunset, the still, glassy conditions of the afternoon had been blown away by a light wind from the west, and Ella’s Pink Lady was making good time under full sail with the mainsail, staysail, and headsail set. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions for my first night out. Watching Ella’s Pink Lady sail along at a steady 4 knots, I felt extremely proud of my cute little pink yacht. I contemplated the next few days before my circumnavigation. It was a beautiful night, and the thought of something going wrong was the farthest thing from my mind.

I’d left Mooloolaba with an escort of boats and helicopters at around ten that morning, and after fifteen hours at sea and weeks of full-time preparation I was feeling tired and slightly queasy. It normally took me a few days to find my sea legs. Confident that everything was fine, I decided to put my head down for a few minutes and have a catnap.

Ella’s Pink Lady and I were about 15 nautical miles east of North Stradbroke Island by this point. I’d have liked to have been farther offshore, away from the local fishing fleets and possible shipping. However, the current and earlier light winds meant I hadn’t sailed very far since leaving. After scanning the horizon, checking the radar and AIS (alarm indication system), and setting my alarms, I climbed into my bunk, still wearing my life jacket and harness.

A horrible bone-shuddering explosion of noise woke me as Ella’s Pink Lady was suddenly stopped in her tracks and violently spun around. I jumped up as the awful grinding noise continued, and a quick glance up through the companionway told me that we’d collided with something huge: a ship. The sky was a wall of black steel, towering over me and obscuring the stars. The roar of engines filled my head and my whole world.

Leaning out into the cockpit, I grabbed at the tiller, flicked off the autopilot, and tried to steer us. It was hopeless. There was nowhere to go, nothing I could do. Shuddering and screeching, we were being swept down the ship’s hull. Another glance told me that the ship’s stern, with its bridges protruding, was fast approaching. The noises were getting louder and, knowing that my mast and rigging were about to come down, I rushed back below hoping for some protection.

With my hands over my head, I sat on my bunk as a whole new and far more terrible set of noises began. A few seconds passed, but to me they felt like hours. The cupboard next to me ripped apart as the chainplate behind the bulkhead splintered it into a million pieces. The boat heeled to one side, then sprang upright with the loudest explosion yet as the entangled rigging suddenly freed itself and crashed to the deck.

When the boat steadied and the roar of the engines started to fade, I went back on deck. It was a mess. There was rigging, lines, and huge rusty flakes of black paint and slivers of metal from the ship’s hull everywhere. Beyond Ella’s Pink Lady I could see the dark outline of the huge ship’s stern slipping away unaffected, leaving us at a stop in the foaming white slipstream.

Shocked and disbelieving, my head still reeling, I desperately tried to come to grips with what had happened while checking the bilges for water and the hull for damage. All I could think was, “my poor boat,” and while I flicked switches to see what equipment still worked, it became a sort of chant—“my poor boat, my poor, poor boat.” I was numb and still shaking off the last remnants of sleep; being scared hadn’t crossed my mind. My only thoughts were for Ella’s Pink Lady.

Taking deep breaths to calm my shaking hands, I picked up the radio to call the ship and then grabbed the phone to tell Dad what had happened. “I’m okay,” I told him. “I’m fine, perfectly okay, but we’ve been hit by a ship, we’ve been dismasted,” I finished in a rush.

Back on deck, alone and miles from land, it took me more than two hours to slowly clear the deck, lash the broken rigging in place, and cut away the tangled headsail. I had to pause frequently to lean over the side and throw up, as my earlier queasiness had turned into full-blown seasickness. Finally, I turned on the engine to motor the six hours to the Gold Coast.

How quickly everything had changed.

Ahead of me lay at least 23,000 nautical miles of empty ocean, furious gales, and the threat of multiple knockdowns as I sailed around the world. But on that day, I doubted that anything I was to face in my months alone at sea would be as difficult as holding my head high as I steered a crippled Ella’s Pink Lady between the Gold Coast breakwaters and saw the crowds lining the river, the fleet of spectator boats, and the scrum of waiting media.

I didn’t know if the crowd was there to show their support or to witness what many thought was my early defeat. I had to force myself to ignore negative thoughts and to concentrate only on guiding us up the river, throwing the occasional wave and half-hearted smile to nearby boats.

I knew that in one horrifying incident I had given fuel to anyone who had criticized me and my parents for what I was trying to do. In their eyes, I had proved exactly why I shouldn’t ever be permitted to sail alone. However, in that same moment, I had proved to myself that I had the ability to achieve my dream. Any doubts about whether I could cope mentally vanished. I realized my inner strength.

In the coming months, when Ella’s Pink Lady was thrown violently about by the wind and waves, or when home felt a million miles away as we drifted, becalmed, and the days ran into each other in slow motion, I was able to look back on that day after the collision with the 63,000-ton bulk carrier Silver Yang and draw strength from knowing I’d held myself together when all I’d really wanted to do was fall apart. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That tanker could have killed me, but it didn’t. And in its wake I was stronger, more determined, and ready for whatever came my way … almost.

© 2010 Jessica Watson

About The Author

Photography courtesy of the author.

Jessica Watson was born on May 18th, 1993 on the Gold Coast of Australia . On May 15, 2010, at just sixteen,  she became the the youngest person to have ever sail solo, unassisted and non-stop around the globe.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (September 7, 2010)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451616323

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images