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Dutch officials try to stop global sail by 13-year-old girl

Authorities threaten to remove girl from parents' custody if she tries to break world record for youngest circumnavigation of globe.

By Staff writer / August 27, 2009

Thirteen-year-old Laura Dekker poses on her sailing boat in the Netherlands in this photo taken, May 19.

Corne van der Stelt/AP


Would you let your 13-year-old daughter sail around the world alone?

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Dutch authorities are threatening to remove Laura Dekker from the custody of her father if he lets her set sail on Sept. 1.

Laura, who lives on a yacht in the Netherlands, wants to break the world record for the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

The current record is held by Mike Perham, who completed his round-the-world voyage today. He’s 17 years old. It took Mike 9 months to complete the trip.

I empathize and admire Laura’s ambition. As a teen, the book “Dove” was one of my favorites. It chronicles 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham’s around-the-world voyage that began in 1965 in his 24-foot sloop, Dove. In 1974, the book was made into a movie.

Since then, Graham has inspired a host of teen sailors – including Zac Sunderland.

Last month, the Californian Zac completed his high-seas adventure. I was among many who followed his 13-month trek on his blog.

Until today, he held the record as the youngest – at 17 – to sail around the world alone. (Graham took five years and got married along the way). Zac’s sister, Abby, will be 16 in November when she plans to follow in her brother's wake on her own solo global odyssey.

What does Abby’s father think of his daughter alone on the high seas?

"I wouldn't let her go at 13, or at 14 or at 15," Laurence Sunderland told the Los Angeles Times. "There's a strength factor and they need to be mentally grounded in what this entails. It's not a frivolous thing. The ocean is terrifying and you have to be prepared for all the adversities that it throws at you."

But he says that Abby has been training and is well prepared. Sunderland, the Los Angeles Times notes, is a shipwright and routinely transports vessels for clients, often with the help of his kids.

And what about Mike Perham – who just finished his global trek and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean alone at age 14 – would he let Laura go?

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