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post #163 of Old 12-10-2009
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Lots of interesting tidbits in this London Times story from October...

She was born on a boat, the child of sailors, but a teenager’s hopes of becoming the youngest person to sail around the world solo capsized yesterday.

A Dutch judge told Laura Dekker, 14, that she must put her ambitions on hold until July next year after a two-month investigation cast doubt on her ability to safely cope with the rigours of a journey that could last two years.

The young sailor, who said she was disappointed at the ruling, faces a race against time to train herself before another court hearing in July, but is determined to push ahead.

“Initially, her reaction was disappointment,” Mariska Woertman, a family spokesman, said. “But after I explained, she agreed these eight months would be enough for her to fully prepare and convince the court that she is ready.”

Judge Mirjam Oostendorp said the investigation by a psychologist and the Dutch Child Protection Agency showed that Laura, who turned 14 only last month, appeared emotionally, intellectually and physically fit for such a venture.

But there were concerns about her knowledge of first aid, sleep management and overall safety plan — and arrangements for distance schooling.

“There are insufficient guarantees for safety, and the arrangements for Laura’s continued education are too vague. These factors constitute a threat to Laura’s safety and to her development, which are sufficient grounds not to let her begin her trip,” Judge Oostendorp ruled in the Utrecht district court.

Dekker’s parents, both round-the-world sailors, are divorced. In August the same court had placed her under care for a two-month period, which in effect stripped her parents of the right to make decisions about the venture. Her father supports the attempt, but his former wife remains doubtful.

A growing number of teenagers are seeking to sail around the world on solo voyages, with or without parental backing. Mike Perham beat the record achieved only a month earlier by Zac Sunderland, a 17-year-old American.

Only 12 days ago, Jessica Watson, an Australian schoolgirl, 16, set off on her own bid to become the youngest solo round-the-world sailor.

Laura’s ambitions have already brought her into contact with the British authorities. She has sailed solo from the Netherlands to Lowestoft — a test her father, Dick Dekker, set her after she divulged her global dream.

At the time, he said he thought the open sea, wind and rain would change his daughter’s mind. It didn’t, but it brought her plans to the attention of a wider audience. After she landed in the East of England port, the authorities decided it was too dangerous for the teenager to sail home and contacted her father to accompany her.

When he initially refused, Laura was placed briefly in a children’s home. Mr Dekker travelled to England eventually, but let her complete the return trip solo.

At this point, the British authorities contacted their colleagues in the Netherlands and the Child Protection Agency became involved.

Mr Dekker himself was just 12 when he first sailed solo from Ijmuiden harbour into the North Sea. If his daughter does set out on her adventure, she is certain to gain an even higher profile. Already her team of supporters are in preliminary discussions with a television production company.

Laura’s lawyer, Peter de Lange, was highly critical of the CPA, which he claimed had failed to properly examine the case. But he also saw a positive element in the ruling. “There is now no discussion on her ability to manage herself. The psychologist says she can cope. It is very interesting what a child at that age can do. Now, what remains are only practical aspects, not personal,” he said.

He suggested that in the coming months, Laura would continue to gain solo sailing experience in the North Sea and the Atlantic in her 8.3 metre-long Hurley 800 named Guppy.

Laura plans to be shadowed on her round-the-world trip by another, faster yacht. This would leave harbours after her departure, overtake her and meet her at her next port.
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