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Dutch girl, 14, sets off in world solo sailing bid

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-05

Dutch sailing enthusiast Laura Dekker, aged 14, set off from the port of Den Osse in south-western Netherlands on Wednesday morning in a bid to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo.

AFP - Dutch girl Laura Dekker, the 14-year-old bidding to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo, set off Wednesday saying the daunting voyage did not scare her.

Dekker left the port of Den Osse in southwestern Netherlands only days after winning a year-long court battle with child welfare authorities concerned she was too young to undertake the trip.

"I am not really afraid," said the petite blonde, smiling for the cameras as she took the wheel of her red-hulled 11.5 metre (38 foot) ketch Guppy. "I am very happy."

Her immediate destination is Portugal, a two to three-week voyage accompanied by her father Dick, designed as a test cruise to iron out any technical problems before launching her official solo bid from there "in about four weeks'" time.

"We want to be sure that the boat is completely ready," said the poised youngster, wearing a black pirate T-shirt and white pants.

Dozens of journalists and about 100 cheering friends, family and fans gathered to see her off from the small harbour where she has been living on a boat with her father and her dog, Spot.

A flotilla of small boats followed them out of the harbour.

Laura Dekker's journey

A determined Dekker said she was "going to try my best" to break the record, set in May by Australian teenager Jessica Watson. Watson completed a non-stop, unassisted round-the-world trip a few days before her 17th birthday.

Dekker turns 17 on September 20, 2012, allowing her a little over two years to complete the trip, during which she intends to stop at several ports along the way.

"I love sailing," she said. "I want to see the world and it would be great to become the youngest" person ever to circumnavigate.

Dekker's route from Portugal will take her across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Pacific via the Panama Canal. She plans to stop at the Galapagos islands before heading to Australia, Thailand and through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden back to Europe.

Dekker won a 10-month legal battle last week against child protection authorities who had been preventing her departure since last September on the grounds that it would stunt her social and emotional development.

A court last Tuesday rejected a request for a one-year extension of state supervision over the girl to August next year.

A reminder of the risks she faces came in June, when 16-year-old Californian Abby Sunderland capsized in rough seas in the Indian Ocean while on a similar mission. She had to be rescued by a French fishing boat.

But Dekker's lawyer Peter de Lange insisted she was ready for the challenge. She had prepared herself by learning first aid and sleep management techniques and by upgrading her boat's safety and navigation gear.

Born on a boat in New Zealand during her parents' round-the-world sailing trip, Dekker completed her first solo voyage, to the northern Netherlands, at the age of 11.

In June, not for the first time, she sailed alone across the North Sea to England. When British police met her at the end of a previous crossing the year before, they ordered her father to accompany her back.

"Laura has salt in her veins," said de Lange.

The headstrong nature which may serve her well on her voyage has long been evident. Last December, she ran away to the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten (St Martin) after the courts intervened in her sailing plans. Police had to escort her back.

Her mother Babs, separated from her father, was slow to come around to the idea of a solo circumnavigation, but eventually gave her consent. She was not present to see her daughter off at the quayside on Wednesday.

Asked what she would miss most on her trip, Dekker was unhesitant: "My dog, Spot".

Date created : 2010-08-04

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