Teenage kicks the Dutch way: sailing round the world at 14

As Laura Dekker's boat finally set sail yesterday for the start of a voyage that could one day lead her to be crowned as the youngest person to sail solo around the world, it was her lawyer Peter de Lange who provided the most succinct explanation as to why a 14-year-old would undergo such a task. "Laura has salt in her veins," he said.

For the past 12 months, the teenager has been stranded on dry land following a bitter legal dispute between her family and Dutch child welfare services who refused to let her leave the country.

But yesterday the schoolgirl finally set off from Den Osse harbour for the start of a two-year odyssey which will see her journey for months on end without support or company through some of the world's toughest seas.

Her court case provoked a debate over whether someone so young should be allowed to take on such a daunting challenge. Supported by her father Dick – and belatedly by her mother after she dropped her initial opposition – Laura argued that she was an accomplished sailor who could tackle a solo global voyage and keep up with her studies at the same time.

Welfare officers in the Netherlands disagreed, launching a legal bid to stop her from undertaking the voyage and even threatening to take her into care.

But last week, in a dramatic reversal of fortune for the young sailor, a court in the Netherlands struck down a supervision order which had barred the teenager from going abroad, arguing that the ultimate responsibility for Laura lay with her parents.

Speaking to reporters yesterday next to her 38ft yacht Guppy, the teenager dismissed any concerns for her safety, even though she will have to travel through pirate-infested waters and battle tropical storms on her own.

"I am not really afraid," she said. "I am very happy. I want to see the world and it would be great to become the youngest [person to circumnavigate the Earth]".

For the opening stages of her voyage to Portugal she will be accompanied by her father. "We want to be sure that the boat is completely ready, so this is the last test sail," Laura explained. "From Portugal I start officially by myself, sailing towards the Canary Islands."

Part of the reason the court lifted the supervision order was because she made a series of adjustments, opting to travel in a larger boat, taking first-aid courses as well as practising solo runs across the North Sea and undergoing sleep-deprivation exercises.

She will not try to circumnavigate the globe in one go, opting instead to take regular stops to meet her family. She will also avoid the ocean during stormy seasons. Her route will take her across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, past Malaysia and Thailand, around the southern horn of India and through the Gulf of Aden, a stretch of water notorious for piracy.

Her voyage is part of a trend that has seen younger and younger participants attempt to snatch the record. Last year the 17-year-old American Zac Sunderland became the youngest sailor to sail around the world – only to have his record broken six weeks later by the British sailor, Michael Perham, also 17 years old. In May, the Australian sailor Jessica Watson reduced the age record once more, completing a circumnavigation in less than seven months, just shy of her 17th birthday. If Laura is to beat Jessica's record she will need to complete her circumnavigation by no later than 16 September 2012.

Teens up to the challenge

Zac Sunderland

American sailor who last year became the first person under-18 to sail solo around the world. His 16-year-old sister Abby had to be rescued last month as she made a similar attempt.

Michael Perham

Sailor from Hertfordshire who took away Sunderland's record after just six weeks. Still the youngest man to hold the record.

Jessica Watson

The Australian crossed the finish line in May 2010, only a few days short of her 17th birthday. She is now the record holder for youngest solo sailor.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee