Teen sets off for world solo sailing bid

August 4, 2010 12:00 am

, Netherlands, Aug 4 – Dutch girl Laura Dekker, the 14-year-old bidding to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone, set off Wednesday saying the daunting voyage held no fear for her.

Dekker left the port of Den Osse in southwestern Netherlands only days after winning a year-long 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 round-the-world 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 and family 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 her boat of the harbour.

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

To achieve that, Dekker needs to complete the voyage in Lisbon by September 20, 2012, just four days before she turns 17.

Watson made her solo voyage non-stop and unassisted.

Dekker intends to break up her voyage with several stops in a bid which will take up to two years.

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. An alternative route to avoid the Gulf of Aden would take her round the southern tip of Africa.

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.

In June, 16-year-old Californian Abby Sunderland embarked on a similar mission had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean when her boat was rolled in rough seas.

But Dekker\’s lawyer Peter de Lange insisted she was ready for the challenge, saying she had gained a lot of solo sailing experience, learnt sleep management techniques and upgraded her boat\’s instruments.

Dekker was born aboard her parent\’s boat as they sailed around the world. "Laura has salt in her veins," De Lange said. "She has gotten three years older in this one year."

Her mother, 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 replied: "My dog, Spot".



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