We spend a lot of time at Sailing Anarchy discussing the reasons why sailing can’t seem to make it into mainstream consciousness here in the States. There are tons of reasons, though we always come back to one big one: No one has succeeded in transforming the public perception of the sport from elitist and exclusive and boring to something that just about anyone can do, and have fun while doing it. This is something that can only be done by a personality; someone that grabs the public’s attention, and that is the single biggest reason why Jessica Watson’s voyage has been such a gigantic win for sailing in Australia. Here’s some support from nonsailing newbie "Mainstream," who found his way onto SA via links from other Jessica stories. Enjoy, and add your comment if you wish.
Well, I was absolutely riveted by the Jessica Watson saga for the past month… & one weblink led to another & … here I am.
I noticed that the editors, in discussing their SCOTY decision, said "From a mainstream Ozzie standpoint, Watson’s trip could be the biggest sailing story in a decade". So I thought as a "mainstream" (i.e. not sailing obsessed) Ozzie, I could help you out with some of that there "mainstream" perspective.
First, there is *no doubt* this was the biggest Ozzie sailing story in a decade. In fact, I’d go further: it was by far the biggest sailing story since the 1980s America’s cup challenges. The only real competition in the period since then were Jesse Martin’s record and Kay Cottee’s before him, but in terms of sheer media play and public involvement, neither Martin nor Cottee came close to the Watson phenomenon.
There are various reasons for that. Jessica is an incredibly good communicator, her blog was amazing, lots of technology helped feed text/pics/video to the hungry media maw. Also, all Ozzies know that the Southern Ocean is no joke and the controversy about allowing a 16 year old girl to sail off into it was heartfelt & very high profile. Anyone near parenting age couldn’t help feel a pang of concern, (or perhaps a feeling of doom) when they saw the news that she had actually left.
Certainly a lot of people felt helpless, which is (I think) why they took it out on the parents. So one way or another, there was a *lot* of emotion invested in Jessica, which is probably the real reason the story was just so huge.
When I heard the news that Jessica had re-entered Ozzie waters, my own relief was palpable. And it finally occurred to me to check out her blog, which was a revelation. The writing was soulful and humorous, the pictures gobsmacking, the videos compelling …
… and as a "mainstream" person, for the first time, I think I started to "get" the whole sailing idea.
It didn’t hurt that the boat is so damned beautiful. I don’t normally get besotted with boats, but I could watch Ella’s Pink Lady slicing, bobbing & surfing along for hours. It’s not just the gorgeous paint job & sails … the design itself just seems somehow to be aesthetically perfect & I noticed a lot of media types couldn’t help but comment on it.
Of course, needless to say, when Jess is on deck, whether at the helm or leaning into the wind on the foredeck, the aesthetic quotient goes right of the charts.
So the TV networks could have saved a lot of breath and hype and just kept the cameras on the boat. Watching Jessica bring that boat in, with a swarm of helicopters above and the spectator armada all around, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
And as I say, I’m not a sailor, just a "mainstream" bloke.
The awesomeness of knowing that she was bringing it in by way of Drake’s Passage and all the rest … was … well lets just say that the average bloke knows that he’s never likely to do anything that takes that much mental toughness, determination and just plain guts.
After several hours of live TV hype and stunning images, when Jess finally wobbled onto the stage with the Prime Minister etc, the bar had been set pretty high. I don’t think anyone was expecting what happened next: she completely blew away those expectations with a few classy, articulate, authentic & heartfelt words, with some comedy thrown in for good measure. My favourite part, of course, was when she felt compelled to disagree with the PM. The crowd roared with amusement that she was doing it and approval of what she actually was saying.
The idea that all of that was the result of "media training" as suggested by Glowfast, is way off the mark. I’ve gotta side with Arnold Layne and say "no, she really is that good".
- All the humour and intelligence Jess showed on stage are exactly what you see on her blog going back 2 years.
- Her PR people are, quite frankly, hacks whose statements sound like they were written by your least-favourite politician. I give them credit for doing hard work to get sponsors on board etc. But when the issues got difficult, they were hopeless. Just as the editors here said, they were *un*polished. I’d add that they showed no imagination and are totally linear thinkers. The idea they would suggest that Jess should disagree with the PM is just completely beyond their ken. I’m sure they had a panic attack until they saw that the crowd loved it.
In fact I’d suggest that Glowfast had it exactly backwards: it’s the PR hacks who need some coaching from Jess. I think she’d be better off just losing them, but that’s another story.
Anyway, some other funny moments on the day:
- Wwhen Jess first got on stage, she didn’t see the PM standing behind her. When she glanced around and spotted him, the double-take was comedy gold.
- (as mentioned by Glowfast Marine)
When she just disembarked and her mother was talking about how big the waves were outside the Harbour. Jess shook her head & rolled her eyes, saying "no they weren’t" but grinning the whole time.
All in all, an amazing story & it’s put sailing into my "mainstream" mind like nothing else ever did.