Laura Dekker: born for the waves

Laura Dekker: born for the waves

5th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

Laura Dekker says she’s more of a doer than a dreamer but with her plans to become the youngest ever person to solo circumnavigate the globe now in tatters, she’ll be left to ponder what might have been.

With the Dutch child protection agencies declaring her trip too dangerous she and her eight-metre yacht Guppy will be confined to dock.

A devastating blow for the teenager who lives her life for sailing.

“My parents have sailed around the world, they know what can happen and that it’s not always fun, but because I want to do it so much they agreed and supported me. They’ve taken good care of me for 13 years so I don’t why people suddenly think they are not doing a good job,” Laura told Dutch TV earlier this week.

She wasn’t at the hearing that torpedoed her hopes on Friday – advised to stay away as the constant media pressure was taking its toll, she, of course, spent the day sailing instead.

Born on board

But it’s not as if she needed to prove her commitment to the sport.
Laura was even born on a boat – in New Zealand – and when she was just six-years-old she had already mastered the control over her single-handed Optimist dinghy and was criss-crossing lakes back in the Netherlands.

Aged ten she moved up to a seven metre boat and was honing her skills in the waters of Friesland and here she encountered her first problems with the outside world with lock-operators not always willing to allow passage to such a young girl in charge of a boat on her own.

Prove yourself

Unperturbed though and supported by her family, she spent the following summer vacation sailing in and around the islands on the Wadden Sea and shortly after she revealed her big dream to take the high seas and become the youngest ever to go around the world.

Supportive, but sceptical, her father told the budding world-beater that she would have to prove herself first.

Intensive lessons on navigation and safety followed and then Dad Dick Dekker dropped the news that Laura would have to sale to England and back on her own first to show him what she was capable of.

“So long on the open sea with wind, rain and waves – that will soon end any ideas of sailing the world,” recalls ekker on his daughter’s website.

Of course the opposite proved true and the compulsion to take on the biggest sailing challenge of all was stronger than ever despite the fact that Laura was only 13.

But the trip to England was an omen in another way too as once Laura arrived in the UK she was detained by the port authorities and was taken into the care.

The local authorities judged it too dangerous for a 13-year-old to be at sea alone and they sought to scupper the return leg. They telephoned the girl's father Dick Dekker and asked him to come over and accompany his daughter on the trip home.

When DDekker refused to comply with the request, Lowestoft authorities placed Laura in a children's home. Laura talks about this obliquely on her website too:
"In England I met a couple who run a children's home. They were very kind and showed me many nice spots in England."

Ultimately Dekker changed his mind and travelled to the UK to collect his daughter.

But when he allowed Laura to sail back on her own anyway the British police contacted their Dutch colleagues, who alerted the social services' youth care bureau.

Child protection

Photo youtube footageAnd with the family then firmly on the radar of social services in the Netherlands the ball started rolling, the next step seeing the Child Protection Board action, which resulted in Friday’s ban.

Laura has indicated she may emigrate to New Zealand, being born there she has a New Zealand passport, and set off from there.

Reportedly there are no legal obstacles there to minors embarking on lengthy sea journeys, although children in New Zealand, too, are required to attend school.

But emigration does not seem to offer a way out. The New Zealand authorities told Dutch daily de Volkskrant on Friday that Laura Dekker could expect to be treated by New Zealand's child protection bodies the same way as in the Netherlands.

The deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Child, Youth and Family agency Ray Smith said he did not think it was sensible for a 13-year-old to sail solo around the world. "I think most people would share that view,” he told the New Zealand Herald.

For the time being then it looks as though all avenues have been exhausted and Laura will have to join her 13-year-old Dutch counterparts returning to school after the summer break.

 Andy Clark
 Radio Netherlands


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