Please select your home edition
Edition
Auckland On Water Boat Show

Laura Dekker completes solo circumnavigation at 16 years and 123 days

by Nancy Knudsen on 22 Jan 2012
Stepping onto shore at the end of her circumnavigation - photo Telegraph UK .. .
This week (Saturday 21st January) Laura Dekker, 16-year-old Dutch/New Zealander solo sailor, quietly sailed between islands in pleasant seas into the Dutch island of Sint Maarten in the Caribbean, completing a solo odyssey around the world in a year and a day.

There were merely dozens, not thousands, of people at the wharf to greet her, including members of her family. Her father Dick Dekker, who has supported her quest throughout, made his third appearance, after being in both Darwin and Capetown to meet her and ensure her safety.

Laura has cut more than six months off the unofficial record set in 2010 by Australian teenager Jessica Watson, who was days away from her 17th birthday when she completed her own non-stop voyage.


There was no sign of Dutch officials at the wharf however, after fears were raised that the authorities may not yet have lost interest in her. Truancy officers reportedly issued her father a summons to appear before them late last year, after a newspaper quoted her admitting that she hadn’t been able to pay full attention to her correspondence course because she had to concentrate on sailing through a series of storms.

Constantly dogged by the Dutch government and child welfare agencies since she was thirteen and sailed the English Channel solo, Laura has learned many things, many of them about sailing, but also about the difficulties that one faces once the bureaucracy has you in its sights.

Laura, born on a boat in New Zealand during a sailing circumnavigation by her parents, spent all her early years living on a boat and sailing back to the Netherlands.

While her parents are divorced and her mother, Babs Muller was not, at first, in favour of allowing her to undertake the circumnavigation, she admits her daughter's skill. ‘She sails like a devil’, she says.

Her grandfather agrees, ‘She’s a stoic’, he says.

The lawyer for the family, Peter de Lange, is more explicit: ‘She will keep a cool head in the most extreme of situations, and she has tremendous will power and ambition’.

‘Her wish to do this was something that came from her heart and soul and no one was going to stop her,’ he added after the completion of the voyage.

Of course, Dekker's record as the youngest sailor to complete a round-the-world voyage will forever remain unofficial, because Guinness World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council will never verify the record, saying they no longer recognise records for youngest sailors in order to discourage dangerous attempts.

The teenager covered more than 27,000 nautical miles on a trip with stops at ports including the Canary Islands, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Bora Bora, Australia, South Africa and finally St Maarten, from where she set out on 20 January 2011. She spent many long sojourns at sea, the longest being 47 days to cross the Indian Ocean, a distance of 6000 nautical miles.

Laura's voyage most resembled that of Zac Sunderland, seventeen-year-old American sailor who, in a 36ft Islander cruising boat, for a short period became the youngest solo sailing circumnavigator in 2009 (eclipsed by Britain's Mike Perham) and is still America's youngest circumnavigator.

Zac intentionally stopped along the way in many ports unlike Mike Perham, who set out to complete a non-stop circumnavigation but was forced to stop for technical reasons.

Dekker also undertook a cruising journey, stopping along the way to wait for the seasons and use the time to conduct repairs and maintenance on her 38ft ketch, a Jeanneau Gin Fizz called Guppy.

Australia's Jessica Watson completed a 210-day non-stop solo voyage around the world in an S&S 34 cruising boat (mainly in the southern hemisphere making it slightly shorter than records require) at the age of 16. She was greeted by many thousands of people on her return, including Australia's Prime Minister, and has since been made Australia's Young Australian of the Year - among many other accolades.

Abby Sunderland, younger sister of Zac Sunderland, at the age of 16 attempted a similar non-stop voyage in an attempt to beat Jessica's record, but had to be rescued in the middle of the south Indian Ocean when her Open 40 racing boat, judged by many to be unsuitable for such a journey, was dismasted during an Indian Ocean storm.

Dekker's stated intention is now to keep sailing through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific once again - to settle in either New Zealand or Australia, as her experiences with the Dutch authorities have left such a bad taste in her mouth.

She has repeatedly expressed her love of being at sea alone, and many a reader has commented to Sail-World that she is reminiscent of Bernard Moitessier, French solo sailor who could not face the publicity associated with his round-world exploits and kept on sailing to Tahiti where he spent the rest of his life, never returning to France and fame.

Keep reading Sail-World Cruising for more information about the different journeys undertaken by recent teen sailors including this remarkable, and intensely private, young sailor.

In the meantime here is a rather shaky amateur video of the yacht as it ties up in Sint Maarten

Barz Optics - FloatersSouthern Spars - 100upffront 660x82

Related Articles

Dateline Rio - Sailing Olympics review - as good as it gets?
The Rio Sailing Olympics was widely judged to have been the best of recent times. The Rio Sailing Olympics was widely judged to have been the best of recent times. The weather was better than Weymouth and Qingdao, the courses more varied, but from a working media perspective, it was the people running the Rio regatta who really made the difference.
Posted on 26 Aug
Rio 2016 - Plain speaking by triple-medalist on Olympic sailing moves
Triple Olympic medalist, Santiago Lange has been on the sharp end of changes made to Olympic classes and formats Santiago Lange, a six-time Olympian and Bronze medallist in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, won his third medal – Gold sailing in the Nacra 17 class. With that length of experience at an Olympic level, having sailed the Laser, Tornado and now Nacra 17 classes his comments on the future shape of the Olympic regatta was one of the highlights of the Medallists Media Conferences.
Posted on 25 Aug
An Q&A with Steve and Heidi Benjamin about the NYYC’s 2016 Queen’s Cup
Sail-World caught up with Steve and Heidi Benjamin to learn more about Heidi’s historic win in the NYYC’s Queen’s Cup. When it comes to U.S. Grand Prix sailing, it’s hard not to encounter the names of Steve and Heidi Benjamin. The two highly polished sailors have been successfully campaigning their series of yachts, named SPOOKIE, for years, starting first with a Carkeek 40 and progressing to their TP52. I caught up with Steve and Heidi to learn more about Heidi’s historic win in the NYYC’s Queen’s Cup
Posted on 19 Aug
Rio 2016 - Images of the penultimate race in the Finns - Scott wins
Sail-World's Richard Gladwell was on the water for the final race of the Qualifying Series of the Mens Finn Sail-World's Richard Gladwell was on the water for the final race of the Qualifying Series of the Mens Finn, in what potentially could have been Giles Scott's (GBR) Gold medal winning race. In the end, the current world champion won in style.
Posted on 15 Aug
Rio 2016 - Images from the Mens RS:X Medal Race
Sail-World's NZ Editor, Richard Gladwell, was on the water at the Medal Race for the RS:X class Sail-World's NZ Editor, Richard Gladwell, was on the water at the Medal Race for the RS:X class won before the race by Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED) without needing points from the Medal Race. Nick Dempsey (GBR) was second on a similar basis.
Posted on 15 Aug
Rio 2016 - Sailors talk of Life at the Extreme on the Atlantic Ocean
Certainly the Volvo Ocean Race catchcry of Life at the Extreme is not a phrase associated with the Sailing Olympics. The 470 crews were suffering the mixed emotions of survival of an extreme test by nature, the cold, and for some elation at their placings, after Thursday's battle for survival. In conditions that looked more out of the Volvo Ocean Race, than an Olympic sailing regatta, crews battled 20kt plus winds and Atlantic Ocean rollers that towered up to four metres.
Posted on 13 Aug
Rio Olympics - Fourth gallery of images the fearsome Niteroi course
Fourth image gallery from racing on Day 4 in the Mens and Womens 470 class on the Niteroi course in the Atlantic Ocean Fourth image gallery from racing on Day 4 in the Mens and Womens 470 class on the Niteroi course in the Atlantic Ocean - sailing in 3-4 metre swells and 20kt plus winds. believe it or not the sea conditions were worse inshore as the fleet encountered the backwashed Atlantic rollers
Posted on 12 Aug
Rio 2016 - Third image gallery of 470's braving the Atlantic Ocean
Third image gallery from racing on Day 4 in the Mens and Womens 470 class on the Niteroi course in the Atlantic Ocean Third image gallery from racing on Day 4 in the Mens and Womens 470 class on the Niteroi course in the Atlantic Ocean - sailing in 3-4 metre swells and 20kt plus winds
Posted on 12 Aug
Gladwell's Line - The challenges of Guanbara Bay
The decision to run Medal Racing on the Pao de Acucer course, probably won't be remembered as one of the brightest The decision to run Medal Racing on the Pao de Acucer, probably won't be remembered as one of the brightest of the 2016 Sailing Olympics. Over shadowed by a 1300ft tall granite and quartz mountain in the shape of a sugarloaf, the bay suffers from dramatic windshifts, and huge variance in wind pressure.
Posted on 11 Aug
Rio 2016 - Fresher breezes expected inside and outside on Day 3
Stronger winds are expected for the third day of racing in the 2016 Olympic Sailing Regatta in Rio de Janeiro. Stronger winds are expected for the third day of racing in the 2016 Olympic Sailing Regatta in Rio de Janeiro. Two of the fleet scheduled to race outside on the Atlantic Ocean course off Copacabana Beach, while the 470 Men and Women will race inside on Guananara Bay.
Posted on 10 Aug