Jessica Watson top young Aussie

SUNSHINE Coast schoolgirl sailor Jessica Watson can add another feather to her cap, having been named 2011’s Young Australian of the Year.

At just 17, the youngster captured the nation’s attention during her 210-day odyssey to become the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world.

She sailed into Sydney Harbour to a hero’s welcome on May 15 last year, having finally completed a 23,000 nautical mile-journey seven months after setting off.

But it was never easy - critics argued she was too young, that the task would fail, while dangerous weather and even a run-in with a 60,000-tonne coal carrier threatened to derail the journey.

The National Australia Day Council played tribute to the teenager’s maturity and dignity after naming her Young Australian of the Year at a ceremony in Canberra on Tuesday.

“From the age of 12, Jessica Watson dreamt of sailing solo, unassisted, non-stop around the world, and at the age of 16, she made it happen,” the council said.

“Her voyage has inspired thousands of people of all ages, and has shown that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve what may at first seem impossible.”

Jessica was delighted with her award - which was also followed by a local award from the council.

"Two or three years ago I was the last person I would have expected to sail around the world and be standing up here today,'' she told the ceremony.

"The first time I sailed I was petrified.

"Winning this award show the youth of today you don’t have to anyone to achieve anything

"It could be campaigning for an orphanage in Cambodia, getting a drivers licence or just passing that maths test

"Just be yourself.

"To all the young Aussies out there dream big and most importantly make it happen.''

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