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Solo Sail Around the World!

January 23rd, 2012

Laura Dekker during her around the world voyage. Photo credit: Judy Fitzpatrick/AP file

by Andrea Montalbano

Over the weekend, 16-year-old Laura Dekker of The Netherlands accomplished an amazing feat. She became the youngest person to sail around the globe solo!

Dekker arrived in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten aboard her 38-foot yacht called “Guppy.”

During her 520-day, 27,000 nautical mile journey she was drenched by a whale, got  woken up by a flying fish landing in her boat, was soaked in storms and became wobbly from high winds, according to her website and reports. To see Laura’s route click here .

She made many stops visiting ports along the way. And at one point she reportedly avoided modern-day pirates in parts of the Indian Ocean. To keep hidden, she stopped publishing her route and navigation details and even delayed her blog by several days so that pirates wouldn’t be able to figure out her location by examining weather patterns. Brave girl!

Her efforts won’t count in the Guinness Book of World Records, though, because Guinness reportedly discourages younger and younger people from taking on dangerous tasks for a record.

The Dutch government had similar concerns about her trip. Even though her father supported her journey, government officials brought a court case against her to block her from going saying she was too young and that the trip was too dangerous. They were also concerned she would fall behind in school.  The court order was eventually lifted but it required Dekker to add safety measures including completing a first aid course and adding advanced navigation and radar equipment to her boat. Finally, Dekker had to enroll in a special correspondence school and keep up her studies while at sea.

If anyone could do it, it was Dekker. She was apparently born on a sailboat and spent the first four years of her life at sea, according to her family. By age six, she owned her own boat and learned to sail it by herself. She continued to master larger vessels and take longer solo trips throughout her childhood. At 13, she decided she was ready to tackle the globe.

Officials who originally tried to block the trip were relieved she made it safely but added that, “I think that this is partly due to the safety measures we enforced as part of her condition for allowing her to go … I am sorry Laura is traumatized but I have no regrets fulfilling our responsibility to this child,” according to reports in The Australian newspaper.

Do you think she should have been allowed to go?

Amazingly, Dekker is not the first teen to tackle the world’s seas. Her trip began just two months after 16-year-old American Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during her attempt. In 2010,  Jessica Watson of Australia completed a 210-day solo voyage also at age 16, but was a few months older than Laura when she finished.

Laura kept a great journal of her trip which you can read by clicking here .  It includes pictures and videos as well.

But she sums up her experience this way:

“I have learned very much about myself along the way and I also have learned very much from all the different places and the many different people that I came in contact with in so many different countries. I have learned from The Pacific Ocean and its islands I had only seen in my dreams. I have learned from the Indian Ocean which snapped me out of my world of dreams showing me bad weather, storms, calm winds and what a long crossing is. And so too I am learning from the South Atlantic Ocean with its soft Trade Winds and smooth sailing that lets me look back in time and assimilate all the wonderful experiences I had going around the world.”

Congratulations, Laura. Glad you made it safely.

Andrea Montalbano is a Contributing Writer for Here There Everywhere — News for Kids. She’s a former Supervising Producer at NBC’s Today show and is the author of a fiction novel for young adults called Breakaway.



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