Monday, October 19, 2009

Teen Sailor's Gamble with Death

A cross post from Technorati:

Mt. Beerwah

A one-in-three chance of being killed! So said the Weekend Today Show’s news report this morning. Jessica Watson, the adolescent sailor was about to leave Sydney Harbour on a solo round-the-world voyage on her yacht Ella’s Pink Lady. She hopes to finish next May before her seventeenth birthday.

There has been an imperfect storm of controversy about her plans. She’s too young, too inexperienced, it’s too hazardous, it’s a public stunt, the parents are irresponsible, the government should stop her.

To top it off, Jessica crashed into a large coal tanker on her way to Sydney five weeks ago and was dismasted. The whole affair has been a beast-day for sub-editors and bad punners, the worst being the accusation that she is “out of her depth”.

I was musing on this sensational story whilst walking to Mt. Beerwah in the Glass House Mountains National Park in South East Queensland. According to local indigenous people Mt. Beerwah is the mother of the local mountains. Traditionally, aboriginal people in Australia have given their children a lot of freedom and personal responsibility from a very early age. It is said to be one of the reasons for poor school attendance.

Jessica is going to miss school but is taking schoolwork just in case “I’m over bored.” Hope the pun was unintended. She’s bound to be taking the World Atlas with her.

Anyway back to the forest. The amazing statistic of 1 in 3 was a distraction from the enchanting peaks around me. Is it 1 in 3 lone yachties who sail round the world? Or 1 in 3 teenagers who have made the attempt? How many solo circumnavigators have died? How large was the sample size? Was modern technology factored into the calculations? Is the colour of the boat important? One way or the other Jessica will change the probabilities forever.

My solo reverie was blown out of the water by the sound of trail bikes thumping along the road. Two teens were enjoying a pleasant (for some) Sunday ride on the tracks around the park. This isn’t meant to be a baby-boomer grumpy-old-man post, so I’ll leave them to their engagement with the environment.

At the start of the National Park tracks there is a warning about the dangers of bushwalking. One black mark for my not having a companion but the mobile phone and GPS were both receiving. Unfortunately the more spectacular walks were closed because of rock falls. Weekend strolls can be a hazardous business.

Began wondering about the chances of being killed on a bushwalk. Even with EPIRBs it still occurs regularly in Oz. Much less than 1 in 3 no doubt. It’s probably even less perilous than trail bike riding. Or riding solo in Falcon Heene’s helium balloon. Hiding in a box in an attic couldn’t be the safest way to spend your youth either. I had circumnavigated the issue as accusations of irresponsible parents and publicity stunt came sailing over the horizon.

I was left to ponder what the statistical dangers would be for a sixteen year old who tried a round-the-world trip in a balloon, preferably inflated with all the hot air generated by the mass media.

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