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14-year-old to sail solo

Just when it appeared that the brouhaha over teenage solo circumnavigators might die down, a Dutch court earlier this week cleared the way for a 14-year-old girl to head offshore alone.

Laura Dekker, who lives in the Netherlands, was granted permission by the courts to depart on her round-the-world journey, which she hopes to do over the course of two years, finishing in September 2012, when she turns 17. The decision comes shortly after the attempt by 16-year-old U.S. sailor Abby Sunderland to become the youngest solo circumnavigator was cut short by her dismasting in the Indian Ocean in June. Dekker says she can be ready to sail in about two weeks, according to news reports.

dekkerNot surprisingly, reaction from the sailing community has been less than enthusiastic.

"I think sending a 14-year-old daughter - as a father of three daughters - is completely irresponsible," US Sailing president and noted sailing commentator Gary Jobson says. "She can't possibly have the experience to do this. We've learned from Abby Sunderland that lots of things can happen."

Dekker is thrilled about the chance. "I'm so happy, just really, really happy," the young sailor said at a press conference held at her marina shortly after the court decision. "I didn't know what would happen next, but now it's all over."

Although Dekker's mother originally opposed the voyage, she has also given her blessing for the trip. Dekker's parents are separated.

Dekker has been working toward this goal for more than a year. At 13, the girl who was born at sea on her parents' boat declared that she wanted to sail the world alone. Concerns about her age prompted Dutch child protection authorities to go to court to stop the voyage. The court placed Dekker under a guardianship order, which it lifted this week. Dutch authorities had hoped to place her under supervision for another year, which would have delayed the circumnavigation.

Dekker has been nothing if not headstrong in her desire to set off alone around the world. Last December, after the initial court decision, she ran away to the Caribbean, where she planned to buy a boat, according to news reports. She was discovered and sent home.

Dekker sails a 38-foot Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch that she has named Guppy.

Dekker's father, an experienced sailor, says his daughter's journey is no more dangerous than life in the Netherlands.

"If she rides her bike to school, that is probably more dangerous," he told reporters.

U.S. solo sailor Brad Van Liew says he's glad the decision has reverted from the courts to the parents, but he's uneasy about the notion of 14-year-olds tackling the Southern Ocean alone.

"I wouldn't be letting my kid do this at 14 years old," says Van Liew, who has an 8-year-old daughter and is preparing to enter a solo around-the-world race in October. "It's good they've decided to let the decision be up to the family. And the family might be making a pretty scary decision. But I don't know Laura Dekker. I don't know her maturity level or her experience. I don't know her motivations or her personality. ... I just hope she's going into this with wide-open eyes."

Click here for a BBC video report on Dekker.

Click here for a tour of Abby Sunderland's boat.

Click here for a report on Sunderland's rescue.

Comments (14) Comments are closed
14 Monday, 02 August 2010 12:19
JT
To all the naysayers out there -- you're absolutely right. You can't ignore basic biology. At 14 you do not have the strength, experience, skills or judgment to do something as potentially demanding as this. Responsible governments should enact a law that calls for the immediate arrest, confiscation of craft and deportation back to country of origin of anyone under a reasonable age (as yet to be determined) sailing solo in their waters.
13 Friday, 30 July 2010 21:01
Diana Ruelens
This is a slippery slope, at what age is too young to do this. At this age children think that nothing can happen to them (invincible). But we adults know better, and death is permanent and you don't get any do overs out there. This title is not worth the price she might have to pay. The ocean is to be given respect and not trusted with respecting life especially that of a young child. That is reality. Will it take a death to stop this madness?
12 Friday, 30 July 2010 13:07
Brenda-Maine
Does someone have to die to stop this insane competition?
11 Friday, 30 July 2010 06:22
T6150
What a joke no 14 year old is ready for this and cannot even enfathom the dangers she will be encounter. If she makes it through huricane alley then she has the Southern oceans.

Good luck to the little twit.
10 Friday, 30 July 2010 03:00
freedomsailor
My 7 YO granddaughter who has been sailing with her mother and me for the past 6 years read this story and asked if I would buy her a sailboat so she could become the youngest person to sail around the world, alone. Gee, tough decision. It took me all of 2 seconds to say NO!
9 Friday, 30 July 2010 01:09
Taylor
As a 14 year old sailor (and author), I think there's a fine line between ambitious and irresponsible. This crosses into "irresponsible" territory.
8 Friday, 30 July 2010 00:03
Miles Kapper
There are some extraordinary folks out there, and a teen wanting to sail around the world is no exception. It is easy to be critical of the parents but the reality is no one knows how experienced she is. She may very well do it, and like the Hollywood unknown actor who strikes it big after everyone told him or her not to leave the farm and pursue their dream in Hollywood, everyone who said she should not have done it, will be right there wanting to meet her if she does it. Also, the de masting of Abby Sunderland's attempt being attributed to her age is a bunch of Crap. Everyone knows that could happen to any sailor regardless of their experience.
7 Thursday, 29 July 2010 22:23
Arthur Johnson
Wonderful! At 66 I would die if someone prevented me from something risky. The tenacity to make it happen is a sign of maturity. May she be Blessed in her quest and adventure. Such is life, to risk, and such is love,to enable.
6 Thursday, 29 July 2010 21:21
Robert NorVelle
The court had to do this or else little Laura would throw another wing-ding and run away again--- perhaps to Zanzibar this time! Where does a 14 year-old get the money to pull such shenanigans anyway?
5 Thursday, 29 July 2010 21:15
jim seattle
Reminds me of the early 1970s when everyone started bragging about how many hours they worked. Finally, a farmer said he worked 24 hours per day 7 days per week. That killed the bragging and things settled down. Does this mean we will ultimately have a newborn sailing solo around the world???????
4 Thursday, 29 July 2010 20:47
Rick Riddle
At least she IS doing something with her LIFE! Just what have you accomplished with yours? Walk a mile in her shoes before you sit in judgement of her abilities. Backhanded comments about her maturity and courage should be restricted to your narrow mind.
3 Thursday, 29 July 2010 19:50
Teresa Tano
Beyond irresponsible! And any sponsor who backs her, I'll think twice about doing business with.
2 Thursday, 29 July 2010 19:47
john ennis
Great to see that not all teens are siting on their ass in front of computers and TV..GO FOR IT
1 Thursday, 29 July 2010 19:46
Mike84
What a joke. What's next a 12 year old?

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