Teen solo sailor reaches Darwin after two ocean crossings
by Nancy Knudsen on 27 Aug 2011
Laura’s journey so far - two oceans down, but still a long way to go. SW
15-year-old solo sailor Laura Dekker has arrived Darwin, her first stop after crossing the Pacific.
With a shredded sail and only half an hour sleep in the last 48, the young sailor who will become the youngest ever solo circumnavigator if she completes her journey within a year from now, arrived into Darwin on Friday, after one of her most difficult legs so far.
After staying awake to endure the long-winded processes that are the lot of any boat arriving into Australia from the Pacific, Laura was torn between enjoying some human company and getting some sleep.
'But I also longed to sleep... a long sleep in one stretch.... A night without shredding sails, without islands, without reefs or sandbanks, without buoys or ships... How wonderful! But my brain was still running at full speed... then slowed down, slowed down until this most active part of myself fell asleep, fell asleep into a deep and long sleep…'
Laura, who will turn 16 on 20th September, still has a little over a year to sail from Darwin back to the Mediterranean to become the youngest ever circumnavigator. The most vexed question is whether she has time to avoid the pirate zone around the Gulf of Aden and take the longer route around Africa.
All authoritative bodies are advising cruising sailors to avoid a large portion of the western Indian Ocean, making it impossible to reach the Red Sea and the very much shorter route.
What makes a young sailing cruiser - the background:
Laura Dekker was born while living on a boat in New Zealand during her parents' circumnavigation – 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.
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 Dick 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.
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 Mr Dekker refused to comply with the request, Lowestoft authorities placed Laura in a children's home. Ultimately Mr 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.
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. She was made a ward of the state for over a year. Then, with the support always of her father, and finally of her mother who was initially reluctant, she was eventually given permission to leave by a Dutch Children's Court.
She departed Gibraltar on the 21st August, 2010, and has since crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans with little apparent trouble.
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