Australian teenager finishes round-world solo sail

Sat May 15, 2010 11:43am EDT
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By Daniel Munoz

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian teen-ager sailed into Sydney Harbor to a rapturous welcome Saturday to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe that will take her into the history books.

Accompanied by a flotilla of supporters' boats, Jessica Watson, 16, sailed through the harbor entrance around 2 p.m. (0400 GMT), at the end of a controversial seven-month journey.

Watson is the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. She returned home three days short of her 17th birthday.

However, her voyage is not expected to qualify officially as a record because of issues about her route and young age. Her backers, including her family, have also come in for harsh criticism, with some experienced yachtsmen opposing the voyage.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proclaimed her "Australia's newest hero" after thousands watched her yacht Ella's Pink Lady dock at the Sydney Opera House. Her arrival was delayed by choppy seas and a torn sail.

Watson said she was just an "ordinary girl who believed in her dream."

She sailed around the southern part of the earth, a distance of around 23,000 nautical miles, past the tips of South America and Africa, before making her way along Australia's southern coast and around the island state of Tasmania.

Watson, unsteady on her feet after months at sea, stepped into the arms of her family and walked up a pink carpet to be welcomed home.   Continued...

<p>Australian yachtswoman Jessica Watson, 16, crosses the finish line of her unassisted solo voyage around the world in her yacht Ella's Pink Lady at Sydney Harbour, May 15, 2010. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz</p>