Girl, 14, sets off on belated solo round-the-world voyage

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The Independent Online

A 14-year-old Dutch sailor departed in secrecy from Portugal on Saturday on her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, avoiding the media because her manager said she didn't want the attention.

Laura Dekker said goodbye to her father and friends at an undisclosed Portuguese port en route to the Canary Islands or Madeira, despite almost windless conditions in the Atlantic Ocean off the Portuguese coast, according to manager Peter Klarenbeek. He said the girl was in good spirits as she started sailing her 38ft ship Guppy on a trip expected to last at least a year. The attempt has been criticised by Dutch child protection authorities who questioned the wisdom of a child risking the world's oceans alone.

Laura had been scheduled to depart from Portimao, and photographers and television crews from around the world were at the resort in south-western Portugal but ended up with no images of the departure. The dutch company MasMedia is documenting the trip with remote cameras mounted on Laura's yacht and offered to sell the footage to anyone who is interested from today.

A Dutch court last month released Laura from the guardianship of child protection agencies who had tried to block her voyage because of fears about her safety and psychological health. Marijke Schaaphok, director of MasMedia, which has exclusive TV rights to film her voyage, defended the girl's determination to sail around the world, saying Laura is mature for her age and has proved that she can sail her yacht without help from anyone else after passing a maritime exam in the Netherlands for a vessel of Guppy's size.

She also insisted that Laura is qualified for the ambitious venture because she grew up with her father on a boat, and "is 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," Ms Schaaphok said.