Teenage Dutch sailor girl to set off on solo trip around the world Saturday

Friday, August 20, 2010

Teenage Dutch sailor girl to set off Saturday

PORTIMAO, Portugal — A 14-year-old Dutch girl will set off Saturday on an attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, her manager said.

Laura Dekker’s ambition of completing the yearlong trip have fueled a global debate over the wisdom of allowing young sailors to take on the tremendous risks of sailing the high seas alone.

Before Laura can cast off, the wind must pick up in southwest Portugal because by late evening the sea off the port of Portimao was like a mirror. Such conditions could postpone any attempt to sail into the Atlantic.

Television crews and photographers from around the world were in Portimao to cover her departure.

A court last month released her from the guardianship of Dutch child protection agencies who had tried to block her voyage because of fears about her safety and psychological health.

Manager Peter Klarenbeek said Laura would depart from Portimao on her red-hulled 38-foot (11.5-meter) yacht “Guppy.”

“We are testing equipment now and I can’t give a departure time, but it will be obvious when she leaves. We’ll be on the dockside to say goodbye,” Klarenbeek said.

Calls to Klarenbeek to get an update on timing went unanswered late Saturday and there was no sign of “Guppy” in Portimao marina.

Windless conditions off the southwestern coast of Portugal could make the first part of her journey painfully slow.

Portuguese news agency Lusa said an unnamed port authority source had informed them that Portuguese law does not allow underage persons to navigate alone, adding Laura had not sought authorization to tie up at Portimao.

But the port authority of Portimao told The Associated Press by telephone that so long as an underage person was qualified to sail a vessel there was no legal impediment to setting off from the port.

Marijke Schaaphok, one of the directors of Masmedia, a company filming the trip with remote cameras, said Laura was very mature for her age.

“She grew up with her father on a boat so she’s completely different from a normal 14-year-old girl. She’s very wise and a little bit impatient, but she’s a very nice girl and she knows exactly what she wants.”

Schaaphok said the first port of call will be Spain’s Canary Islands or Portugal’s Madeira, depending on the winds. She said Laura chose Portugal to start for logistical reasons.

“It seems to be easier to end there. The part from Portugal going back to Holland is not easy or quick so she decided to start there and end there as well,” she said. “It has everything to do with the wind and the route.”

Laura has been working to counter objections to her voyage since the authorities stepped in last year. She got a bigger, sturdier boat, took courses in first aid and practiced coping with sleep deprivation. She also made at least one solo trip across the North Sea to England.

The Dutch court ruled that her preparations were adequate and it was up to her parents, who are divorced, to decide whether to let her make the attempt.

In June, American Abby Sunderland, 16, had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during an attempt to circle the globe. Earlier this year, Australian Jessica Watson, completed a 210-day voyage at age 16.

But while Watson remained at sea nonstop, Laura plans to stop at dozens of ports and may even return home to catch up on her studies before resuming her trip.

If she completes the voyage, any record she claims would be unofficial and likely to be challenged. The Guinness’ World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council have decided they will no longer recognize records for “youngest” sailors to avoid encouraging dangerous attempts.


Associated Press writers Ciaran Giles and Harold Heckle in Madrid, and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

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