Laura Dekker: Dutch sailing teen with sea in her veins
Laura Dekker, the Dutch girl who began her round-the-world record bid Saturday from Gibraltar following a long legal battle, was born on a similar sea voyage 14 years ago.
"Sailing is my life," the bubbly, blonde teenager writes on her website, sprinkled with photos of her yacht, sailing instruments, images of the sea, and a map that will track each stage of her route.
"As soon as I get on my boat, something inside me changes. Then I really feel what living is."
At the end of July she won a 10-month court battle with Dutch child welfare authorities who had been preventing the voyage for fear it would stunt Dekker's social and emotional development.
But on Saturday morning, out of the media spotlight, Dekker began her solo trip from Gibraltar.
Before leaving the Dutch port of Den Osse earlier in August, where she lived on a boat with her father, Dick, and dog, Spot, Dekker had said, "I am not really afraid.... I am very happy."
"I simply want to see the world, different cultures, and to acquire life experience," the slender, vivacious girl told AFP after the verdict in July.
"I like to travel. I don't like staying in one place for too long."
Dekker turns 17 on September 20, 2012, which allows her a little over two years to complete the trip.
Her route from Gibraltar will take her across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Pacific via the Panama Canal.
She plans to stop at the Galapagos islands before heading to Australia, Thailand and through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden back to Europe.
Dekker was born in New Zealand during the third of a seven-year, around-the-world sea journey and spent the first four years of her life at sea with her parents.
"I was four when I first stood at the helm on my own," she writes.
She set sail on her first, six-week solo holiday to the northern Dutch province of Friesland at the age of 11.
Her boat, an 11.5 metre-long (about 38 feet) jeaneau gin fizz ketch, is named Guppy.
"This boat is my second home. Guppy means everything to me," Dekker says on her website.
She describes herself as a sailor "first of all", and says that other people perceive her as stubborn.
"I follow my own head. And if I'm determined to do something, then I'll make sure that I make it happen."
In tenacious style, Dekker fought the state's attempts to kill her dream, addressing the courts' concerns one by one such as learning first aid and sleep management techniques.
She plans to continue her formal education via the Internet while at sea.
Shortly after the authorities thwarted her initial departure last year, the headstrong youngster ran away to the Dutch Caribbean island territory of Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) in December. Police had to escort her back home.
She says she understands people's concern about her age, "but I would like to show other young people what you can achieve if you really have a dream."
A reminder of the risks she faces came in June, when 16-year-old Californian Abby Sunderland capsized in rough seas in the Indian Ocean while on a similar mission. She had to be rescued by a French fishing boat.
Dekker describes her hobbies as windsurfing and snowboarding. She does not watch much television, and when she does it would be a film "involving water".
"When I'm not surfing or sailing, I am to be found at the harbour working on my boat," she says.
She is an avid sailing magazine reader, and "I like Donald Duck".
Asked what she would miss most on her trip, Dekker was unhesitant: "My dog, Spot."
Dekker says she has found the media attention in recent months hard to understand.
Her manager Peter Klarenbeek said in the build-up to her departure that Dekker would not give one-on-one media interviews as she had signed agreements promising exclusivity to a Dutch newspaper and television company.
"I couldn't believe that everybody is interested in me," she wrote on her blog.
"I'm just a person with a dream."
© 2010 AFP