JESSICA WATSON - The Making of Pink Lady

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

1_S-S34.jpg 1_S-S34.jpg
14_S-S34.jpg 14_S-S34.jpg
22_S-S34.jpg 22_S-S34.jpg
18_S-S34.jpg 18_S-S34.jpg
19_S-S34.jpg 19_S-S34.jpg
4_S-S34.jpg 4_S-S34.jpg
8_S-S34.jpg 8_S-S34.jpg
2_S-S34.jpg 2_S-S34.jpg
3_S-S34.jpg 3_S-S34.jpg
24_S-S34.jpg 24_S-S34.jpg
23_S-S34.jpg 23_S-S34.jpg
16_S-S34.jpg 16_S-S34.jpg

Found in the pages of Trade-a-Boat, along with a team of helping hands, the S&S 34 yacht on loan to young Jessica Watson, 16, is now ready for a youngest-ever circumnavigation starting in September. The beauty of such an exercise, explains our adventure writer DON MCINTYRE who bought her boat, is that anyone can create a global-ready yacht for just $100,000 or so

JESSICA WATSON - The Making of Pink Lady

The Making of Pink Lady was published in Trade-a-Boat issue 392, Aug 26-Sept 22, 2009.

Okay, so you want to sail solo around the world — how much do you need? Well it’s up to you really. You could easily spend millions, but I know you can do it for less than $100,000. If you sell the boat at the end of the voyage, you will be out of pocket about $20,000, max. Yes $100,000 includes the purchase of the boat — sound cheap? It is, but it will be safe, too. It would not be fast, but it would be fun. It would also be quite different than many around-the-world racing yachts whose owners can pay up to $100,000 just for a mainsail, which will be useless by the end of the voyage!

In life, there are many ways to solve the same problem or achieve similar goals. Most people look for excuses not to do something and would give up on the solo idea as being too expensive. It is often only the brave who find solutions and chase dreams. A 14-year-old Queenslander, Jessica Watson, was one such person and two years on, she is in the middle of an audacious challenge to become the youngest person to sail solo non-stop and unassisted around the world — in a PINK yacht! A Sparkman & Stephens 34 to be precise. She did not even have the $20,000 at the start of her dream, let alone $100,000, so what did she do? She started telling people about her quest, began serious training and sailing, formed a multi-skilled support team and started looking for sponsors — as you do. Right? Eighteen months later, she sent me an email and, as they say in the classics, the rest is history.

As you read this, Jessica is about to, or has just set out on Pink Lady for the sail of her life. The yacht is not your average S&S 34 and is worth much more than $100,000, but don’t let that stop you. If you want to do something similar you can, for less than $100,000. Trade-a-Boat is full of real ocean yachts that are capable of mixing it with the best of what the Southern Ocean can dish out, let alone the Pacific, and they can be bargains. However, they do need serious preparation.

I’m currently writing this at the Sydney International Boat Show, where Adventure with a capital A has been the theme. Pink Lady is on the marina. I have been giving presentations on many of my past adventures, including my next (see These must have an "unknown outcome" to be classed as an Adventure. This is part of the attraction for wanting to do them in the first place. So who pays for the rescue you ask? Many people do think that. Well, hopefully no one will, but if you are serious about what you are doing, you will, before setting out, assess all the risks and do everything in your power to minimise them. That means good planning, comprehensive training and solid preparation before even thinking about setting off.

Responsible risk-taking (or Adventure), is the essence of buying a boat, planning the cruise or fishing trip, preparing yourself and only then, making the go/no-go decision to set out. In the case of Jessica Watson, every stage is a big one. The stakes are high. She cannot afford to make any mistakes before setting out.

My involvement with sailing circumnavigators and their boats began 29-years ago with Englishman, David Scott-Cowper. Now, over the past 10 months, Margie and I have been helping Jessica and I can assure you, she is on the right horse, with solid planning and appropriate training. Time to sit back and see how she copes with the multitude of challenges that will surely come her way. It will all be there, live, on the web at

THE 3&S 34
There were five S&S 34s in Trade-a-Boat when we decided to buy one and lend it to Jessica, along with some of the equipment she would need. Shanty was built in 1984, had a new engine, was in reasonable condition, had a seriously solid rig and an asking price of $68,000. We negotiated that to mid-$50K and had a deal. Jessica cleaned it up, held a press conference to christen it Youngestround and then headed to the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show to tell the world.

The humble S&S 34 has a proud history. Jesse Martin, David Dicks and Jon Sanders all broke or set solo around-the-world records in them. With more than 160 built in Australia since the mid-60s, they are not hard to find. And they are still building them. Many have cruised around the world and even more are still racing competitively. There is an active association (visit
where you can find everything you would ever want to know about the S&S34 and join a forum. Every boat built is apparently still sailing. The yacht has is a cult following and rightly so.

Sailing 23,000nm in an overloaded boat, non-stop for eight months through the Southern Ocean and around Cape Horn will surely stress both skipper and yacht. They need each other to succeed. Jessica has quite literally pulled together some of the best names in the business to supply equipment, talent and expertise for a very important refit. The critical things in a solo challenge like this are to make sure the structure is sound, the rig is secure, to keep water out at all cost, maintain control and keep moving forward through all conditions. None of that will happen with a weak, tired or injured skipper, so total system integration, and human dynamics are important. Keep the skipper happy and the boat will be too.

It began with a truck ride to a shed in Buderim, Qld, where everything on the boat was stripped from the structure. Even the brand-new engine came out, as a Yanmar 30hp with Gori folding prop were considered superior replacements. The benchmark was set. If it was not exactly what Jessica wanted, it had to go! Jessica is not your average 16-year-old. Pretty obvious, hey! But she really does call the shots.

From our very first conversations, I have given her every bit of experience and knowledge I can about media, sponsors, solo sailing, equipment, campaign management, and so on. As indeed I have many others. She absorbs that and then decides what is right for her. I do the same on all my adventures. You must do that. If you always just do as someone tells you and it goes wrong it can be frustrating, because you then wonder if you made the right decision. If you actually make the decision yourself after careful consideration and it goes wrong, you at least have no regrets. My admiration for Jessica grows every day.

As an example, I pleaded with her to take Air-X Breeze wind generators. We have used them around the world with great success and I have seen them go underwater at speed with the blades surviving. Jesse Martin used them and they survived his voyage. Jessica thinks they are noisy, so went with another unit, the Rutland 913 and built a clever drop-mount to replace broken blades easily.

I really liked David Dicks’ targa with tilting solar panels to maximize the suns efficiency, which Jesse Martin successfully copied. Jessica thought it was all a bit high and vulnerable, so built a lower targa to hold solar panels and electronics. I would never sail around the world without the two standard cowl vents on dorade boxes by the mast. It helps fight condensation and provide fresh-air flow when things are battened down. Again I pleaded with her. Jessica worried about leaks, so took them off and fitted some mushroom vents under the dodger instead. I did persuade her to fit a UFO vent over the head. If it leaks it will land in the toilet.

With the prospect of many hours needed for the refit, I placed an ad in Trade-a-Boat looking for volunteers to help. The response was amazing. At times there were up to 11 people working on the boat. Corporate executives, retired carpenters, sailors and friends from around Australia. They all moved up to Queensland to pick up tools. In fact, sometimes, they even went to the shop and bought the tools with their own money!

Like all aspiring adventurers, Jessica was not flush with cash. So began many weeks of frantic effort with all the emotions, frustrations, joy, anger and exhaustion that goes with that. There was a great deal of collective expertise among the workers to help Jessica make decisions. Bruce Arms, the boat manager, also became social worker and people coordinator extraordinaire, while Jessica’s parents had to house and feed them all in between other campaign management duties as well as helping to sand and grind.

The hull was cut back, epoxied and painted, pink of course! All skin fittings, valves and hoses were renewed, and keel bolts X-rayed and one replaced. The pedestal and wheel were off and a new rudder and tiller fitted. New cockpit drains were designed and installed. All chainplates came out to be checked and new rear lower gussets glassed in and extra chainplates fitted. A new watertight bulkhead was glassed in forward of the chain locker to hold the new inner forestay chainplate and then the anchor locker filled with foam and sealed making a great crash compartment. The electric anchor winch was removed and the anchor now stowed below. All the cockpit lockers were made independently watertight, with their own bilge pumps, so as not to drain into the hull. Four Johnson electric bilge pumps were installed, together with two big manual pumps, one inside and one outside.

All deck gear came off, including hatches, windows, winches, tracks, travellers, cleats, stanchions, and more — absolutely everything. Decks were sanded, all holes glassed and filled, then painted (light pink of course) and everything refitted was brand new! Then came the dodger, not your average dodger, more like a work of art that consumed everyone during its construction. It was a gift from the "workers" to keep the skipper dry, safe and happy. It was a passion and symbol for all who worked on it and, yes, it too was pink.

People were going the extra yard to help Jessica. The mood was infectious. Fleming Vanes had sponsored a wind vane and a boom brake with Phil George, the MD, offering to fly up from Melbourne to help fit them. That led to helping around the boat, which then turned into engineering and constructing, at his expense, the substantial aft targa and pushpit frame. To top that, when the frame was mortally damaged trucking the boat down to the Sydney International Boat Show — no problem, he built another one in double-quick time!

Down below, a new galley came together and the chart table was redesigned to include a functional seat. The lightweight composite building skills of BWR Multihulls were put to effective use, not only on the dodger, but also building a new engine box and a centre console in the saloon (pink of course) to hold fuel and water containers. It also doubled as a great table or somewhere to put things. The diesel tank was removed, reconditioned, sealed and tested, as were the water tanks. The head was stripped and a new Lavac supper dunny fitted.

Everything electrical was simply ripped out. New conduits were fitted and then Neil Cawthorne was left with the challenging task of not only designing a complex electrical and electronics system, but somehow fitting it all into a little boat with engineers, painters, woodworkers and Jessica crawling around in all the places he needed to be. His bits included: 5 x Sonnenschein Dryfit 80amp gel batteries, Balmar 120amp alternator and regulator controller, 240V inverter, 2 x 80Watt and 1 x 60Watt Suntech solar panel, wind generator, circuit breaker panels, Volt and amp meters, Hella nav and interior LED lights, a full suite of the best Simrad sailing instruments, broadband radar, autopilots, AIS, VHF, an Icom M710 HF, Echomax Radar transponder, Trac Plus Sat-tracker, SatCom Global Inmarsat Marine BGAN terminal, Iridium handheld sat phones, stereo system, Panasonic Toughbook computers, three fitted video cameras, and a couple of cabin fans.

It all needs to work trouble free for eight months — with more than a bit of water and condensation thrown in. Oh, did I mention that it will be chucked around a bit, maybe upside down occasionally? Some people get all the good jobs!

I have known David Lambourne from my BOC Challenge Solo Around the World racing days. He quite simply has been there, done that, when it comes to rigs. Shanty’s original rig was solid. In 1984, S&S 34s were fitted with either a big, thick section for deck-stepped masts or a thinner one for keel stepped. The original owner of Shanty went with the big section, but keel-stepped it. David has built a new mast, selecting one of his unique profiles, which is about the same size, but by design, even stronger. The hardware and everything fitted to it is simple, yet sophisticated and well considered — I would be happy to sail it anywhere. All-new Ullman sails will sit pretty here and Jessica should feel confident at 2am, deep in the Southern Ocean, touch wood!

So I guess we blew the budget, right? Not exactly $100,000? Okay, but you could still do it safely without the ‘pink’ for $100,000. Jessica and her team have rebuilt the boat to new and it is a credit to all involved. If you wanted to head off solo, do it all yourself and bought some good second-hand gear, it will not be a Pink Lady, but a budget on Shanty might look something like this: Redo the rig $10,000; some extra sails from Hong Kong $5000; redo the important electricals, including solar panel and wind generator $5000; safety gear $5000; wind instruments, radar, HF, VHF, Echomax transponder $6500; windows, hatches and deck gear $3500; pumps and plumbing $2000; windvane and an extra autopilot $3000; 2 x Iridium handsets $1000; and, slipping, paints and bits $3000.

That’s $44,000 for the refit and I would have a few thousand left over with Shanty. It is possible to make a budget around-the-world yacht and others have done it, some solo, some with crew, most with stops.

When I had my 50ft BOC racing yacht, we bought three second-hand sails for the delivery sail from Australia to America and the start of the event. We used them again sailing home. Total: more than 24,000nm. They could have done it all again when we were finished with them. The three sails cost $800 total, but my race campaign cost $750,000.

Keep the dream alive and remember the Jester Globe in 2013. It’s an S&S 34 one design, solo, around the world race! No rules or entry fee. Just turn up.

At the 2009 Sydney International Boat Show, Jessica was running a survey: Do you like the PINK? Yes/No. She could not change her mind, but she was reassured that YES won.

Now what about the foredeck hatch? She wanted it hinged at the back, opening forward? What do you think?


Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.