Sail Away, Jessica


I am, more or less, a parent, and as such I have extremely strong and loud opinions about the proper boundaries one should set for one’s children. I learnt these from my own parents, to whose firm discipline and provision of basic nutrition I owe everything I have today.

To provide the foundation of a good parent-child relationship, one of the base rules I have always laid down to my children is this: no sailing around the world solo and unassisted. There are those who have called me unnecessarily strict in this regard but I think recent events have borne me out here.

I’m speaking, of course, about Jessica Watson, the young girl who has recently arrived back in Australia having spent seven months or so gadding about the world on a boat when more conscientious teenagers are doing their homework or earning money at McDonald’s; ie making a contribution to society.

But let’s not dwell on that side of it. Let’s leave aside the issue of Watson’s utter lack of responsibility and work ethic, and her apparent belief that she has the right to get her kicks in any insane nautical manner possible; and let us admit that yes, to a certain extent, she has achieved, as they say, "something". (Even though, as we all know, she didn’t actually sail far enough to qualify for "around the world", and she is too young to qualify for official records, so in a way her achievement is largely meaningless. I mean, she’ll go down in the record books as the youngest person to not sail solo and unassisted around the world, and to be honest, I did that years ago.)

The word "unassisted" is a bit of a sticking point too — and not just because of the unsubstantiated but extremely plausible rumours that she had four migrant workers stowed below decks the whole time. News reports suggest that Watson made her journey with a GPS! And an "auto-pilot"!

In other words, she sailed "solo" around the world pretty much to the extent that I flew "solo" to Brisbane last time I bought a Virgin Blue ticket. Oh yeah, pretty hard to sail around the world, isn’t it, when you have a computer telling you where to go and taking over the sailing whenever you feel like a catnap, or have to go make another blog entry about how you saw a squid that morning. Yeah, congratulations Jessica, good job.

Maybe someone should introduce Jessica "laziness is my co-pilot" Watson to a guy called Ferdinand Magellan. Ever heard of him, Jessica? He sailed round the whole world — without a GPS. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Bet you don’t know how he managed, do you? Let me give you a hint: a special technique I like to call "seamanship". But then, Jessica Watson wouldn’t know seamanship if it jumped up and bought her a new dress. Seamanship is so old-fashioned nowadays, isn’t it? It’s for squares. It’s for baby-boomers. It’s for World War I vets. These days we have GPS and auto-pilots and iTunes — and the virtues of the salty old sea-dogs have gone to Davy Jones’s locker.

Not that it’s really that hard to sail around the world. It’s round, after all; set off in one direction you’ll come round the back eventually. It’d be much harder to sail off the world, or through it. I mean, any of us could simply strap ourselves into an armchair tied to a beach ball, have it tossed into the ocean, and stand a 50–50 chance of bobbing our way around the globe.

Of course, we’d have problems feeding ourselves, but that’s exactly my point: it’s easy to sail around the world when you’ve got a big boat full of canned goods to keep stuffing your face with. It’s a much greater challenge to set out with no supplies, arms tied behind your back, catching passing fish in your mouth as they swim by. Try that, Little Miss Up-Yourself-Because-I-Managed-To-Not-Fall-Off-A-Boat.

But look, it’s not the wildly over-inflated view of the difficulty of sailing solo around the world currently permeating the public discourse that makes me say it was a grave mistake to allow this trip to ever go ahead.

No, it is rather the terrible effect the journey seems to have had on the girl’s character. To put it bluntly: this round-the-world trip has gone to her head.

I have no idea, of course, just how pleasant a person Jessica Watson was before the trip. Her father is on the record as saying to parents everywhere that if they had a daughter like Jessica, they would have let her set off too; so obviously, she was obnoxious enough a child for her parents to be desperate to get rid of her. But that’s not conclusive; her parents may have just been vindictive and devoid of parental feeling like so many of us are. This is not Jessica’s fault: all parents, no matter how pleasant their offspring, are engaged in a constant struggle with their own powerful feelings of loathing.

But what there is no doubt about is that now she has come back, Jessica has become absolutely insufferable. Why, no sooner was she on shore than she was up before the crowd with the Prime Minister, who graciously dubbed her an "Australian hero", even though inwardly he must have been wishing fervently he was back at the Lodge planning the destruction of the economy.

And how did Jessica respond? She disagreed. With the Prime Minister. "I’m not a hero," she said, with unspeakable arrogance. Have you ever heard anything so breathtakingly impertinent? Apparently somewhere in the Indian Ocean, Watson’s respect for her elders fell overboard.

Listen up, "Jess": when the Prime Minister says you’re a hero, you humbly agree with him. We have no place, Jessica, in this country, for your brand of sneering, nasty cynicism, for this rude, ungracious desire to humiliate your political superiors in public. Rudd was said afterward to be inconsolable: "Why does she want to hurt me so?" he sobbed, as Therese clasped him to her ample bosom.

But of course Watson wasn’t finished there: "I’m an ordinary girl who had a dream. You just have to have a dream and set your mind to it," she said, brutishly rubbing it in to all those poor folk out there who also had dreams, and also set their minds to it, but failed to achieve them because of their lack of talent or because their dreams were so stupid. Not to mention the false hope she’s giving to millions of innocent children who now think their idiotic ambitions are somehow achievable. Thanks a lot, Jessica. All that work Australian parents have put in to lowering expectations, down the drain. What a callous, flint-hearted young sapling she truly is.

She then cracked a "joke", saying, "stepping off was so strange, because for the last seven months, I was doing everything to stay on board," to which the crowd, apparently, "laughed". I have very little to say on this matter, except that if you were in that crowd, I hope you are wracked with guilt right now.

Furthermore, have you seen her boyfriend? Mike Perham, his name is, a long pale streak of five-star triple-A-rated pussy-willow sap who is apparently "more than just good friends" with Watson.

Perham last year became the youngest person to sail solo assisted around the world, whatever that means — maybe he was by himself on the boat but had a butler on a jetski riding next to him. Apparently having a taste for younger women with more courage and accomplishment than himself, he’s leeched onto Jessica, and spoke to her "regularly" by phone while she was sailing. To which I say, look girlie, I don’t think your sponsors were paying for you to be gabbing away to Prince Dripsalot all over the Roaring 40s. Perham claims that their connection "comes from sharing some of the same dreams and knowing we were pretty unique teenagers".

To be honest, if at this point you’re not googling madly to find Perham’s current location so you can head over there and deliver a series of sharp punches to his kidneys, then either I am not doing my job properly, or you are totally devoid of decent human feeling.

What to make of a young girl who chooses such an insufferable slab of human yoghurt for a soulmate? What to make of a young girl who gets her jollies from publicly shaming our elected officials? What to make of a young girl who gets herself all puffed up just because she sat on a boat eating Spam for a few months, and then has the odious audacity to knock back a lucrative magazine offer for access to her birthday party, thinking herself too good to let her long-suffering fans have a little taste of the high life? What to make of a young girl who has come over so uppity you’d think she’d won an Olympic medal or cured lupus or something, rather than simply buggered off for the best part of a year and come back stinking of rotten prawns?

I leave it to the Australian public to decide. And I hope that someday, we can get over our infantile elevation of marine adventurers, and finally recognise the real heroes: satire columnists.

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