Brandon Minster, Staff Writer

A few months ago, my family became regular followers of the blog of Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old Australian girl attempting to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Jessica was a perfect fit for my family. She appealed to my daughter’s inner sexual liberator, constantly on the lookout for a good girl empowerment story. Jessica also appealed to my inner misanthrope, always open to new tales of those who give society the proverbial mooning and set course for a life of solitude.

Just about every day Jessica updates her blog. A content-heavy website features a map showing her current location, typically in the middle of some ocean, and bearing the modern-era disclaimer that the map is not to be used for navigational purposes.

Also on the website are periodic video updates. My kids enjoy these the most. My son loves that the start and end of each video is Jessica fiddling around behind the lens, trying to find the camera buttons.
Intellectually, he knows she is sailing by herself, but it’s not quite real to him until he realizes she has to be her own camerawoman — then he cracks up.

My daughter also enjoys the videos, and it must be for the sight of Jessica, because heaven knows she’s impossible to understand.

She combines a voice so squeaky that I constantly suspect she has an on-board helium leak with an Australian accent my kids just aren’t prepared for.

I admit that when it comes to learning about Australia, the long-form name of which is, according to the CIA, “The Thunder From Down Under,” my kids are being short-changed by their home-school education.
While it’s true that their lessons in Australian social studies consist mostly of The Simpsons episode “Bart vs. Australia,” they’ve only seen parts of “Strictly Ballroom.” My son loves a series of books called Jack Russell: Dog Detective, written by Australians Darrel and Sally Odgers, but every time I try to do an Australian accent while reading, my audience grows restless.

As a result of this gap in their educations, I have to stop Jessica’s videos and translate things into a non-squeaky, non-Australian accent.

In January we checked Jessica’s blog and read about another sailor, American Abby Sunderland, who is just starting her own solo circumnavigation. Jessica wrote, “Despite the fact that there seems to be a lot of adults determined to see Abby and I pitted against each other as rivals, I only wish her the best of luck and am totally thrilled that there’s another girl going for the record!”

As an adult, I realized I had a duty to pit Jessica and Abby against each other. It would give them preparation for the real world, where people are constantly, needlessly, pitted against each other.

It’s a lesson I wish someone had taught me. I entered the workforce not realizing that every office only has room for one funnyman. When I threatened the established territory of the reigning office funnyman John, I created tension.

Lucky for me, the office curmudgeon, also named John, soon retired and I took the vacancy.

The main difference between a funnyman and a curmudgeon is not knowing when to stop, and while there are many things I don’t know, when to stop is what I don’t know best.

A quick review of my undergrad statistics text confirmed what I initially suspected: Jessica and Abby can’t both be the youngest solo circumnavigator. Evidently Abby is five months younger than Jessica. The Australian started three months before Abby, so Abby has two months of leeway between her and the record.

Our family has torn allegiances. We became emotionally committed to Jessica several months ago, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time translating her Aussie squeaking into intelligible language. However, Abby is from Ventura County, California, where my wife and I come from. It’s possible we have even seen her once at the mall or someplace.

All this news about the youngest sailors has made me realize something: my kids aren’t getting any younger. Maybe the next time I go to the marina in search of clam chowder I’ll help my daughter steal a boat.

She’s only seven; knocking nine years off the record will give us some time to enjoy the record for a little longer than the month or two Jessica Watson will have.

My sons might miss her, but she can just send home some videos of her operating her own video camera and they’ll be satisfied.