Sailor, 14, gets OK for solo trip
Associated Press Writer
MIDDELBURG, Netherlands – The new cushions, sunshade, and bright red sail are in place. And now 14-year-old Laura Dekker has the go-ahead she needs.
A Dutch court ruled Tuesday the girl who was born on a yacht in the South Pacific is ready to embark on her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world – meaning she could set sail in two weeks in a ketch named Guppy.
“I was so happy I almost jumped into the water,” the teen gushed, after hearing the court’s decision.
She then hopped onto her red-hulled, twin-mast yacht with a cartoon fish painted on the side and did a celebratory circle for the assembled media in the still waters of the harbor where she lives with her father on a boat.
The past year of legal wrangling and criticism of Laura and her family have been far from such clear sailing – and she faces more stormy waters when she sets off on her odyssey in her 38-foot yacht. The dramatic rescue just last month of American teen Abby Sunderland in the Indian Ocean is a reminder of the perils she will face.
“I’m not really afraid, everything is really prepared on my boat,” the young Dutch sailor said of the prospect of encountering everything from towering waves to Somali pirates.
Answering questions in Dutch and English with a confidence belying her age, only rarely did Laura’s youthful exuberance break through at a brief news conference.
The risks the teen faces ignited a worldwide debate on how far parents should go in supporting or encouraging their children’s improbable dreams.
When Dutch child protection agencies got wind last year of the then 13-year-old’s plan they immediately went to court and had Laura placed under a guardianship order that meant she could not set sail.
After reviewing her plans, judges ruled Laura was underprepared for such a voyage. They also raised concerns about her psychological and social development if she spent two years away from her peers and from school.
One by one, Laura and her father worked to address a list of shortcomings – she organized remote schooling (study materials for the voyage were delivered last week) and got a bigger, sturdier yacht and fitted it with a battery of safety and navigation equipment. She took first aid courses, learning to suture her own wounds, put out onboard fires and cope with sleep deprivation.
On Tuesday, all the work paid off when Middelburg Family Court said there was no reason to extend the guardianship by another year.
If Laura finishes within two years, she would beat then 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson’s record, her lawyer Peter de Lange said. Watson spent 210 days maneuvering her 34-foot yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, around the world, encountering raging storms and 40-foot waves along the way.
Laura has mapped out a course hopping from port to port that means she will get plenty of time on dry land and visits from family during the voyage. She has two alternative routes around Africa ready – one through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden and another around South Africa if the threat of pirates is too serious.