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Dutch teen sets out on solo boat trip around the world

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-21

Fourteen-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker set sail Saturday in her 11.5-metre boat in an attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. She departed in secrecy from Gibraltar to avoid media attention.

AFP - Dutch solo sailor Laura Dekker, 14, began her round-the-world record bid from Gibraltar Saturday, after slipping away from the media spotlight and Portuguese police, the television company covering her voyage said.

"She left the harbour of Gibraltar," Marijke Schaaphok, whose television company Masmedia has signed an exclusive rights contract with Dekker, told AFP, saying she had spoken to the teenager's agent Peter Klarenbeek.

Schaaphok said Dekker would probably head for the Spanish Canary Islands or possibly Portugal's Madeira, depending on the wind, arriving in six or eight days.

She said Dekker had finally decided to make the British possession at the southern tip of Spain the starting point for her voyage because "the Portuguese police were making problems because of her age."

The police had paid her a visit at sea while she made final tests of her boat, the red-hulled, 11.5 metre (38 foot) ketch Guppy, in which she had arrived from the Netherlands in the southern Portuguese port of Portimao a week ago, Schaaphok said.

Klarenbeek had told AFP that she would be leaving Portimao on Saturday, but other sailors in the marina there said she and her boat had not been seen since Wednesday.

Port authorities confirmed a report by the Lusa news agency that Portuguese law does not allow a minor to sail alone.

At the end of July Dekker won a 10-month court battle with Dutch child welfare authorities who had been preventing the voyage for fear it would stunt Dekker's social and emotional development.

The petite blonde wants to break the record for the youngest world solo sail 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.

She has said her 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.

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

"I am not really afraid," Dekker told journalists before leaving the Dutch port of Den Osse on August 4 with her father Dick, days after a court rejected a request by authorities for a further year of state supervision over her.

"I am very happy."

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

The first stage to Portugal was designed as a test cruise to iron out any technical problems before launching the official solo bid. On her blog, Dekker said there had been a number of glitches, affecting a water pump, GPS and radar system.

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.

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 (Saint Martin) after the courts intervened in her sailing plans. Police had to escort her back.

"I love sailing," she said in Den Osse. "I want to see the world and it would be great to become the youngest" person yet to circumnavigate the globe.

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


Date created : 2010-08-21