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Dutch teenager sets new solo sailing record

Sixteen-year-old battles seas, and child welfare authorities, to become youngest to sail the globe

She sailed in the face of critics who said she was too young to attempt such a feat. But last night, 16-year-old Laura Dekker proved her detractors wrong by fulfilling her ambition to sail solo around the world.

The Dutch teenager, who celebrated her 16th birthday at sea, breezed into St Maarten harbour ahead of schedule last night,a year and a day after she embarked from the same Caribbean island aboard her 38ft fibreglass sailboat Guppy.

On dry land and reunited with her parents and grandparents, she said: "There were moments where I was like, 'What the hell am I doing out here?' But I never wanted to stop. It's a dream, and I wanted to do it."

Supporters cheered as she walked across the dock with her family. She is more than seven months younger than the Australian Jessica Watson, who completed a non-stop navigation in 2010 just before her 17th birthday. Miss Dekker therefore lays claim to be the youngest person to complete such a round-the-world feat. Yet, because ofthe controversy that surrounded the voyage , Guinness World Records decided to stop recognising records for youngest sailors to discourage dangerous attempts. The World Sailing Speed Record Council has also announced recently that it will not recognise "youngest sailor" records.

Miss Dekker became the centre of global media attention in 2009 when Dutch officials tried to scupper the teenager's plans, arguing she should have been in a classroom rather than navigating the world's oceans. They took their battle to court on a number of occasions. Child court judges eventually relented, with the condition that she continue her schoolwork online.

During her 12 months circumnavigating the globe, she claims to have had "a lifetime of experiences". The trip took her toAustralia and the Cape of Good Hope. She said the size of her achievement was "slowly sinking in".

Miss Dekker's latest run-in with the Dutch authorities came as she was battling heavy seas on her Atlantic crossing. While she was busy trying to keep the yacht safe, Dutch officials overseeing her welfare took it as a sign that she was neglecting her homework.

Miss Dekker was, appropriately, born on a boat in Whangarei, New Zealand, and it is this country's flag she flew from Guppy when she arrived back in harbour at St Maarten. She has spoken of how difficult she feels it will be for her to return to the Netherlands and instead plans to go to New Zealand.