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14-year-old Dutch sailor given the green light to sail

by Nancy Knudsen on 24 Dec 2009
Laura sailing on her sailing boat Guppy SW
In an amazing reversal, a Dutch court has ignored child welfare workers' plea that would-be circumnavigating teen sailor Laura Dekker be put in the care of a foster family.

Further, they have assured her that, pending certain conditions being met, she will definitely be allowed to go sailing next summer.

This means that the young sailor, who was born on a sailing boat in New Zealand, will be allowed to go sailing solo before her 15th birthday in September next year.


Laura's ambition is to undertake a two year circumnavigation voyage in her Hurley 800, an 8.3 metre boat called Guppy, and she reportedly 'jumped a hole in the sky' when she heard the news.

In an earlier court hearing, no guarantee was given that, when the court met in May next year, she would be permitted to go sailing. Then, her father and the child welfare authorities clashed on how Laura was to prepare for the planned long journey.

Laura, disturbed by the clashing adults, disappointed by the 'gut feeling' that, no matter what, she would not be allowed to go sailing next year, pressured by the attention of the press and with her grades slipping, ran away from home, leaving her father a letter.

Family spokeswoman, Mariska Woertman commenting on the latest court ruling, said 'That it took a trip to Sint Maarten, so be it.'

The written ruling stated: 'It appears that child welfare authorities and the father weren't able to cooperate on drawing up a plan of attack....Because of this, Laura became caught in a downward spiral.'

Laura's lawyer Peter de Lange praised Wednesday's decision for clarifying that if Laura meets certain conditions — which were not made public — she will be given permission to depart on her trip next summer.
'It's not, 'do your best and we'll see' anymore,' he said. 'It's, 'if you do your best than it's going to happen and we'll see to it that it does'.'

AAP reported that Laura's mother Babs Muller had left the court in tears earlier Wednesday after her home had been excluded as a possible place for Laura to stay. 'They know everything much better,' she told reporters sarcastically, pointing to the courthouse. 'They know what's best for my child.'

For the background to this story, read earlier Sail-World stories from this week http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/Father-may-lose-custody-of-runaway-14-year-old-sailor/64711!here and http://www.sail-world.com/Cruising/Dutch-teen-sailor-goes-missing,-found-in-the-Caribbean/64620!here

The record status, in brief:
The youngest person to sail solo around the world is 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain, who commenced attempting a non-stop unassisted sail, but was forced to stop several times for repairs to his boat. He took the title from American Zac Sunderland, who set out, as is Laura's ambition, to go sailing from port to port, and had just finished his two-year circumnavigation when Mike Perham, in a much faster boat and a couple of months younger, completed his.

Now Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson, is currently trying to beat, not Perham's record, during which he stopped several times, but fellow Australian Jesse Martin's non-stop unassisted record, which he established in 1999.

Zac Sunderland's younger sister Abby Sunderland, also 16 but younger than Jessica, is on the verge of commencing her own attempt at Jesse Martin's record, commencing from Marina del Rey in California, and again on a much faster boat.

Laura, when she embarks on her voyage, will not be trying for these records, as her journey will be a cruising journey, stopping at many points along the way, and not, under the current plans, venturing into the Southern Ocean.

However, if she completes her own journey in time, she could still end up as the youngest sailor, with or without stops, to circumnavigate the world.
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