Jessica Watson set sail from Sydney last weekend in an attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world unassisted. There has been a lot of controversy about whether she's ready, whether she'll make it, and whether her parents are doing the right thing by letting her go.
The only of these questions I really feel qualified to respond to is whether she'll make it. Of course, I hope she does. I'm not an expert in sailing, so I don't know whether she's ready; and I don't have children, so don't feel qualified to make a judgment as to whether her parents should have let her start.
What I do feel qualified to make a judgment on is whether the general population should be making this judgment, of Jessica or of her parents.
There is no denying that many adventurers don't make it. Some, no many, get rescued at sea off the coast of Australia alone. And yes, some perish. I remember very distinctly a documentary I saw about Andrew McAuley, whose sea kayak was retrieved just 30kms shy of his destination, New Zealand, on his attempt to cross the Tasman Sea solo. More than two years later, his blog remains untended; a haunting self portait retrieved from his kayak is the final item posted.
Andrew was named Adventurer of the Year in 2005. So arguably he was eminently qualified to embark on his final journey. But the thing I remember most from his documentary was his demeanour when he started paddling. It was almost as if he knew this would be his last adventure. Did I think he should have known that, and "had the sense" to stop? No. I think he did the right thing by continuing.
Andrew left behind a wife and small son, so the knockers were many. Just as they are for Jessica, who is underage and must be "protected".
It seems to me that some of the most revered adventurers (we used to call them "explorers") have been ridiculed by their contemporaries. At one time in our history, the only way to prove that it was even possible to sail around the world was to set forth towards what people then thought was the edge of a flat world.
If you ask me, the very moment we take a stand against the adventurous spirit, we lose our sense of what human endeavour is all about; and lose sight of what it is to live.
So should she? Yes, she should. As a society, we must believe in Jessica's ability to make it. And as a society, we must celebrate not only her success, but also her willingness to try.
Follow her blog or log on to her website and show your support.