Fourteen-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker has announced she will sail away from the Netherlands on Wednesday, sailing with her father to Portugal, from where she will start her solo sail around the world.
She has announced no date for her solo start, but it is expected to be within the next couple of weeks after she has completed some test sailing.
Laura won a prolonged battle last Tuesday when a court released her from the guardianship of Dutch child protection agencies who had blocked her attempts to leave last year when she was still 13, and had applied to the court to extend its ban. The authorities said being alone and absent from school for so long would be harmful for her education and psychological development. On the other hand, social workers had recommended that she be allowed to depart, and both her parents approved.
She planned to set out at 9 a.m. (0700GMT) in her 38-foot (11.5-meter) Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch Guppy from the southern Dutch harbor of Den Osse with her father Dick Dekker.
‘It’s great that I can now officially say it will happen on Wednesday,’ she said after the court handed down its decision.
Laura, who was born on a yacht off the coast of New Zealand, has been whittling away at the objections to her unassisted voyage since the authorities stepped in last year. She got a bigger, sturdier sailboat, took courses in first aid and learned to suture her own wounds, and practiced coping with sleep deprivation. She also made a solo trip across the North Sea to England, the repeat of a voyage she had made when she was 11. After that first sea crossing, authorities in Britain clapped her into a children’s home and called her father.
He was forced to travel to England to reclaim his daughter, and, after doing so, took her back to the shore for her journey back to Holland.
Her plans and legal wrangles have contributed to a global debate over the wisdom of allowing ever-younger sailors to take on the risks of sailing the high seas alone.
Concerns were heightened in June when American teen Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in the Indian Ocean. A wave snapped the mast off her yacht and left her helpless until she was eventually rescued by a French fishing boat more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia.
Australian Jessica Watson, at 16 recently completed a 210-day voyage on her 34-foot (10-metre) yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, circling the world non-stop mostly in the Southern Ocean. Watson has just completed a book on her experience.
Laura’s voyage will not resemble either that of Abby Sunderland or of Jessica Watson. Instead, she will spend two years on a cruising journey, stopping in many ports. The maximum time she is likely to be at sea continuously is three weeks, very different from the eight months that Jessica spent alone in her boat. She will also mainly stay in tropical or warm areas of the planet.