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T Clewring - Cruising

Solo sailing teen Laura Dekker did not 'tear down' her Dutch flag

by Nancy Knudsen on 16 Jan 2012
Laura waving goodbye at the start of her journey showing Dutch flag .. .
When 16-year-old Laura Dekker sails Guppy into the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten in about eight days to become the youngest ever circumnavigating sailor, she will be flying, not a Dutch flag, but the flag of New Zealand. However mainstream media reports that she had recently 'torn down' the Dutch flag are not true.

Laura, who has dual Dutch and New Zealand citizenship, has been flying the New Zealand flag since she departed Darwin Australia. Her reasons are, however, certainly steeped with the hurt she has experienced from Dutch child authorities who have constantly tried to impede her progress. Even after she had made many concessions and her journey was well advanced they have not relented their attempts to prevent her voyage continuing.

Her lawyer Peter De Lange told Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant that truancy officers issued her father a summons to appear late last year after a newspaper quoted her as saying in her blog she had not been giving her studies full attention.

Mr De Lange said the report was a misunderstanding, based on her saying she needed to concentrate on sailing while weather in the Atlantic was poor.

When her father refused to turn up, the truancy agency notified child protective services, infuriating the family.

'Who knows, maybe they'll be waiting for her with handcuffs at the finish line,' Mr De Lange said.

If Laura checks in as a New Zealand citizen, they will have a hard time fastening those handcuffs.

The story behind the acquisition of a New Zealand flag is a simple one. On arrival into Darwin, Laura's Dutch flag was looking a little ragged. Knowing that she wanted a New Zealand flag, her agent and friend Lyall Mercer bought the flag and presented it to her as a present. Laura's voyage route did not include New Zealand, but she has said she hopes to sail there after reaching Sint Maarten.

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Laura is currently sailing her 38ft Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch Guppy across the Atlantic from Cape Town, following the trade winds to the Caribbean and the completion of her around-the-world sail. She is expected to arrive the island around 24th January, having departed there in August last year. If she arrives on that day, she will be 16 years, four months and 15 days old, more than seven months younger than Australian Jessica Watson, who completed a non-stop journey, staying mostly in the southern hemisphere, just before her 17th birthday.

Some like to count these things, but the fact is that neither the Guinness Book of Records nor the World Speed Sailing Record Council accept 'youngest' records these days, so as not to encourage parents pushing their children into foolish exploits.

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Laura's difficulties with the authorities:
The Dutch court originally blocked Laura's voyage and only permitted her to set off after she finished her school year.
While it could be said that Laura already had learned the skills that she needed, the authorities put their reluctant stamp of approval on her journey only after she had passed certain courses to their satisfaction, bought a bigger boat than the one she originally planned to use; enrolled in a special correspondence school and shown that her navigation equipment was adequate. Did she need these extra checks? Her father is vehement that she did not, that they added nothing to her skills, nor to the safety of her boat. Would she have coped just as well as she has without them? We shall never know...

Many civil libertarians in the Netherlands are angry about the treatment of Laura and her family, accusing the government of 'nanny state' control - 'parochialism versus global perspective, fear versus adventure, paternalism versus empowerment' as one Dutch http://www.publicspace.nl/2009/08/23/zeilster-laura-dekker-en-de-staatsmacht-whats-the-problem/!journalist put it.

Laura was born on her parents' yacht when it was docked in Whangarei, making her a New Zealand citizen. She spent the first few years of her young life completing a circumnavigation with her parents, who are now divorced. Passionately in love with sailing, the tearaway teen then completed her first crossing of the English Channel solo at the age of thirteen, ending up in a Children's Home after the British authorities saw the age on her passport.

Mr De Lange said Laura plans to return to school after her voyage, perhaps in New Zealand.
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