The Dutch courts thought she was too young to sail around the world alone. Truancy administrators didn’t want her to miss out on her schooling while she was at sea. Yet try as they might to keep her at home on terra firma, Laura Dekker sailed into St. Martin on Jan. 21 as the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator at 16 years, 123 days old.
A year and a day after setting off from the Caribbean island on her east-west circumnavigation, Dekker sailed her red-hulled 38-foot Jeanneau ketch, Guppy, into Simpson Bay, where a flotilla of pleasure craft escorted her to a wharf crowded with cheering well-wishers, among them her parents, sister and grandparents.
“It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it,” she told reporters at dockside.
Click here for a BBC report on Dekker’s feat.
Dekker soloed 27,000 nautical miles via the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to Australia, through the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope and across the Atlantic to St. Martin. She stopped in the Galapagos; the Marquesas; Fiji; Tahiti; Darwin, Australia; and Durban and Port Elizabeth, South Africa, among others.
Though Dekker is believed to be the youngest sailor to solo around the world, her achievement won’t be reported in the definitive records of sailing exploits — Guinness World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council. These record-keepers abolished the category “Youngest Circumnavigator” after a slew of younger and younger sailors began challenging the age record, raising alarms about the wisdom of encouraging teenagers to undertake a very dangerous enterprise.
Dekker had wanted to set off at age 14, but the Dutch courts delayed her departure from Gibraltar for her start-finish point in St. Martin until August 2010, when she was 15 years, 7 months. Dekker joins an elite circle of teens that have set their sights on capturing the title “Youngest Circumnavigator.”
The previous title-holder, Australian Jessica Watson, completed a non-stop circumnavigation in Sydney in May 2010 in a Sparkman & Stephens 34, two days before her 17th birthday. A month later, Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old U.S. sailor aiming to dethrone Watson, was rescued in the Indian Ocean after her Open 40 was dismasted.
Sunderland’s older brother, Zac, held the record briefly, circumnavigating (with stops) in 2009 in a 36-foot Islander sloop and finishing at the age of 17 years, 223 days. English teen Michael Perham broke his record six weeks later, completing his voyage around the world (with stops) in an Open 50 at the age of 17 years, 164 days.
Perham was recognized by Guinness World Records as the youngest solo circumnavigator with stops. Aussie Jesse Martin holds the record for the youngest non-stop solo circumnavigation, which he completed in 1999 when he was 18 aboard Lionheart, an S&S 34.
Dekker told reporters she plans to finish her schooling and move to New Zealand, where she was born.