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T Clewring - Cruising

Solo sailor Laura Dekker heads for our northern coral reefs

by Nancy Knudsen on 15 Aug 2011
Laura Dekker arrives Sint Maarten 1- Photograph courtesy of www.HeliPhotoCarib.com Heli Photo Carib www.HeliPhotoCarib.com
It's coming up to a year since Dutch solo sailor Laura Dekker, now 15, left Gibraltar on her planned circumnavigation on 21st August 2010. She is now heading our way, having left Vanuatu on 8th August, but don't expect to see her on the east coast. She is heading straight for Darwin. To get there she will have to pass through the maze of coral reefs that surround the top of Australia .

Like our own Jessica Watson and Abby Sunderland from the USA, Dekker's trip attracted controversy and criticism, yet only Dekker was dragged through her nation's court system to prevent her from attempting her dream.

The court case, her solo sail to the UK where authorities forced her father to come to collect her from the children's home where they put her when she arrived, her escape to the Caribbean and the intensely negative media took its toll on the young adventurer who still struggles to forgive her government and the media generally.

Of all the recent young sailors, Dekker seems the most independent. 'It's easier to be so far from home than I thought. So far it's even better than I expected. It pretty much has become a lifestyle which I totally like,' she told her new manager Lyall Mercer.

Dekker recently appointed Mercer, an Australian publicist and talent manager who also represents American teen sailor Abby Sunderland and flew across the world to coordinate Sunderland's media and publicity after her dramatic rescue in the Indian Ocean last year.

Mercer said it was an honour to represent Dekker. 'Laura is a free spirit and there are very few like her. While she is aiming at the record, her motivation is not fame but personal achievement,' he said.

Dekker left the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu a few days ago and is headed for Australia, where her father Dick is expected to meet her. She will arrive in Darwin at the end of this month or early September, after passing through the dangerous coral reef waters that caused Captain Cook to call it a 'labyrinth'. It will probably mean some sleepless nights for the young solo sailor.

While she is a citizen of New Zealand - where she was born on a yacht - as well as The Netherlands and Germany, the young sailor has never visited Australia or New Zealand.

'She is very disappointed to be unable to drop in to the land of her birth as she has a great passion to return - maybe even to live for a time - to New Zealand,' Mercer said.

While Dekker says she doesn't know what to expect in Australia, she told Mercer that the first thing she will probably do upon arrival is sleep. After all those coral reefs she will have some clear water while crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, but the arrival into Darwin is also a tricky one as the tidal flows are very strong. Fair winds, Laura!

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