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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
When Jesse Martin sailed from Melbourne on 7 December 1998, he hoped to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted. Over the next 11 months aboard the 10.3-metre Lionheart, the 17-year-old completed a 50,000-kilometre rite of passage, earning a world record and exploring not only the oceans, but himself.
Jesse Martin was born in 1981 in Dachau, Germany, while his parents Kon and Louise travelled throughout Europe and Asia. He was two when they returned to Australia, just before his brother Beau was born. Soon after, they moved from Melbourne to north of the Daintree River in far north Queensland, where his parents bought land and built a small house with no electricity or running water. Martin remembers it as ‘complete freedom’, but when he was five, his mother returned to Melbourne bringing Jesse and Beau with her.
Jesse was 14 and Beau 12 when their father bought a catamaran and the trio learned to sail on a 1000-kilometre voyage from Cairns to Cape York. Two years later, Jesse and Beau spent five weeks paddling sea kayaks along the coast of New Ireland, in Papua New Guinea, before Jesse joined a yacht crew sailing from Belize to Tahiti. His passion for adventure continued to grow. So too did his dream of sailing solo around the world. He credits his family for supporting his dream. “I was made to believe I could do anything.”
Louise Martin mortgaged her house to buy Lionheart, and by the time Jesse set off, he’d clocked up only six hours of solo sailing. During the voyage he had several escapes, narrowly avoiding a collision with a tanker, hit by a whale in the South Atlantic and knocked over several times by heavy seas. Near Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, a Force 10 storm (Beaufort scale) threatened to dismast Lionheart. For long periods, Martin was cold, scared and alone – yet he kept his spirits up throughout.
He also had ample time to do as he wished, whether it was playing his guitar, cooking or planning future adventures. Welcomed home by some 20,000 well-wishers, he produced a film and book, Lionheart: A Journey of the Human Spirit, about the adventure that would inspire other young adventurers, like Jessica Watson, to pursue their dreams. Jesse Martin was Young Victorian of the Year in 2000 and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.
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