True Spirit is a real-life adventure story by 16-year-old Jessica Watson of Australia. On May 15, 2010 she sailed her yacht back into Sydney Harbour to a hero’s welcome. At that time she became the youngest person to ever sail solo, non-stop, and unassisted around the world. Even before she set foot on her boat, she and her parents were criticized by the media, by politicians, and by ordinary people all over the world. Many feared for her as she set out to do what a lot adults would never dream of doing. She and her little pink yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, spent 210 days alone at sea where several times she battled monstrous seas and survived multiple knockdowns of her boat. However, in a voyage marked by extreme highs and lows, she also describes the amazing animals of the ocean which she encountered, the stunning sunsets that she alone was witness to, and the humor of trying to enjoy a normal life while on a 34-foot boat in the middle of the water.
Although she is primarily a sailor, Jessica writes with a style all her own. She is funny, honest and humble through it all. If I didn’t know better while reading it, I would think that she was at least in her mid-twenties because she writes like a grown woman and not a little girl. And yet, she also has moments where she demonstrates her age in humorous ways. The book is interspersed with entries from her blog which she updated faithfully by satellite while at sea. Like any teenage girl, she did battle some home-sickness and some depression and she tried to keep any negative comments out of her blog entries to avoid worrying her family at home. But in the book she reexamines the blog and points out the parts that were less than completely honest.
She starts off with a bit about herself and her life leading up to this amazing experience. She talks about her preparation both the serious (a boat collision just prior to the voyage that made her much more watchful on the trip itself) to the humorous (she took 576 chocolate bars with her). She tells about the doubts she had going into the trip, how she convinced her parents to let her go and about her sailing voyages prior to the circumnavigation itself. She shows the resiliency of teenage spirit, demonstrates what “dreaming big” really looks like, and encourages other people to do the same. Then she lays out the days and moments just prior to departure, the final words she had with her family, and how it felt to be utterly alone in the middle of the ocean. She discusses the technical aspects of solo sailing, the challenges of food preparation on a constantly moving stove, and lays out her celebration plans for Christmas, New Years and one of the biggest days of all for her: crossing the equator for the first time.
I am not a teenager nor am I a sailor, but this book made me wish I was both. I laughed when she tried to make pasta with diesel fuel instead of water, cried with happiness when she stepped off the boat all wobbly-legged at the end of her trip and couldn’t put the book down through the entire thing. So many “inspirational” books are sappy, annoying and theoretical but this book was none of those. It was very honest and was inspirational mostly in the fact that it was not trying to be. It made me want to get off of the couch and do the things that I want to do in my life, without waiting around until I’m older or have more money. Jessica did just that, put in years of hard work, and eventually completed the trip of a lifetime. I, for one, am grateful that she chose to put it on paper and share her experience with the world.