It could be the ultimate reality TV show: 14-year-old girl sails around the world solo, navigates the islands of Indonesia and the Panama canal, braves the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia, faces rough storms, dead calms, loneliness and physical exhaustion. Her reward: the Guinness world record for becoming the youngest sailor ever to circumvent the planet solo.
TV stations have been competing for the rights to Laura Dekker's story ever since it made headlines last August, when a Dutch juvenile court grounded her just as she was about to set sail in her 8-metre boat. Laura was temporarily placed under the supervision of a youth welfare organisation pending a decision by the juvenile court, which is expected by the end of this week.
No so lonely now
After considering several proposals, 'Team Laura Dekker" has agreed to go into business with one, as yet unnamed TV station. In a bizarre twist the TV coverage is being used as an argument before the juvenile court. After all, sailing around the world with a TV crew in tow, hardly qualifies as a solitary experience.
The media attention for Laura's case has gained her offers of support from around the world. An experienced sailor has put himself forward to follow Laura during the entire trip in a faster boat. Laura's website has received offers of free hotel rooms and private accommodation. Someone has proposed to be her spokesperson free of charge, and she will be met and taken care of at every port of call during her trip.
All of this could help sway the three juvenile court judges as they weigh their decision this week. In a hearing behind closed doors on Monday they listened one more time to the arguments presented by Laura, her father, the investigator appointed by child protection services, Laura's lawyer and her mother.
'It's all about the sailing'
The court-appointed psychologist's report on Laura is 35 pages long. The judges have studied it, as well as the report by the child protection services, an IQ test, Laura's proposed route and the security plan she drafted herself. A decision could be reached as early as Friday. [The court decided NOT to let her go, so she ran away - to St Martin
How does a 14 year old "run away," all by herself, to a Dutch/French island in the Carribean?
According to Laura's lawyer Peter de Lange, in rare interview with NRC Handelsblad, the court has kept an open mind about the trip. "The judges agreed to proceed swiftly, because it is important, given the weather conditions, that Laura leaves as soon as possible." And if she wants to be the youngest sailor to sail around the world she has to leave before she turns 15," de Lange said. A 16-year-old Australian, Jessica Watson, is now under way to break the current record.
De Lange is confident the court will come round to his arguments. "Everyone says she is quite able to make the trip. It is no longer dangerous now that she will be followed and there will be someone to meet her at every port," De Lange said.
Another major objection is the trip's impact on Laura's education. Child services used the fact that Laura would be missing school as the main argument to have her placed under supervision. But De Lange said Laura plans to study on board and interrupt her trips to take exams.
Meanwhile, Laura herself is completely unfazed by the media attention, said De Lange. "For her it's all about the sailing."