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Navigating Controversy: 'True Spirit' Depicts A Teen Sailor's Historic Journey

Netflix delivers the dramatic story of a 16-year-old who became the world's youngest solo circumnavigator.

Movie poster for the Netflix film "True Spirit" with girl standing barefoot on the bow of a red sailboat with a coloful sunset sky  over blue water in the background

There was a window of time around 2010, as this new thing called social media was starting to take off, when a succession of teenage sailors from various countries attempted nonstop solo circumnavigations. Each voyage was decried as reckless by critics, but they captured public attention far beyond the boating world.

Most of them succeeded, and no one died, but the trend spurred debate over both personal and parental responsibility, respect for the open ocean, consideration for would-be rescuers who would risk their lives, and whether this chase to be "the youngest solo circumnavigator" was primarily about selfish teenage entitlement.

Through this historic lens comes "True Spirit," a Netflix original movie drama about Jessica Watson, who at the at of 16, sailed Pink Lady, a stout (and pink hulled) 34-foot Sparkman & Stephens ocean racing monohull from her native Australia along a southern route past the perilous waters off the great capes in the Southern Ocean — Africa's Cape of Good Hope, Australia's Cape Leeuwin, and South America's Cape Horn. After 210 days at sea, despite seven knockdowns during a succession of storm, Watson arrived back in Sydney Harbour on May 15, 2010, three days before her 17th birthday, to a national hero's welcome.

Close-up photo of a girl wearing a red lifejacket, light blue jacket and yellow waders, soaking wet, standing on a sailboat

Teagan Croft plays Jessica Watson.

The 2023 movie is based on Watson's 2011 memoir of the same name, and does a good job of capturing the public debate over personal freedom versus personal responsibility. It's also an enjoyable nautical movie with a solid cast of Australian actors (including Oscar winner Anna Paquin) and an inspiring underdog story about a young sailor pursuing her dream and refusing to waver. The interactions with her mentor sailing coach, along with the tight-knit Watson family, make for a team easy to root for.

Sailors will be reminded that most movie makers are not boaters (please don't leave the satellite phone on the gunwale), and some of the dramatic real-life moments are stretched out for increased movie drama, but scenes like the one set on a windless starry night reveal some of the magic Watson must have witnessed during her isolated months at sea.

This is a family-friendly movie perfect for some quiet time with the (grand)kids. Watch the extended movie trailer linked above, but if you don 't want an any surprises spoiled, you can head right to Netflix to stream "True Spirit."

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Rich Armstrong

Senior Editor, BoatUS Magazine

A journalist by training, BoatUS Magazine Senior Editor Rich Armstrong has worked in TV news, and at several newspapers, then spent 18 years as a top editor at other boating publications. He’s built a stellar reputation in the marine industry as one of the most thorough reporters in our business. At BoatUS Magazine, Rich handles everything from boat and product innovation and late-breaking news, to compelling feature stories, boat reviews, and features on people and places. The New Jersey shore and lakes of lower New York defined Rich's childhood. But when he bought a 21-foot Four Winns deck boat and introduced his young family to the Connecticut River, his love for the world of boats flourished from there.