A 16-year-old Australian girl who spent seven months at sea in her pink yacht sailed across the finish line of her round-the-world journey yesterday, becoming the young­est sailor to circle the globe solo, non-stop and unassisted.

Thousands of spectators erupted into cheers as Jessica Watson sailed into Sydney Harbour, the finale to an epic adventure in which she battled 40ft waves, homesickness and critics who said she'd never make it home alive.

Watson docked at Sydney's Opera House and burst into tears as she stepped off the yacht and into the arms of her parents. "People don't think you're capable of these things – they don't realise what young people, what 16-year-olds and girls are capable of," her mother Julie said.

Her feat, however, will not be considered an official record, because the World Speed Sailing Record Council discontinued its "youngest" category.