14-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker sets sail – despite growing controversy

Laura Dekker set sail from Portugal Saturday in a bid to become the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

By , Staff Writer

Once more, a teenager is attempting to become the youngest to sail alone around the world.

This time it’s 14-year-old Laura of the Netherlands, who set sail early this morning from Portugal, according to her manager because she wanted to avoid the media. Her plan is to take the unofficial title of youngest to solo circumnavigate the globe.

Note the word “unofficial.” Record-keeping organizations have stopped recognizing "youngest" pursuits because of growing controversy over the dramatic adventures of young sailors like Jessica Watson and Abby Sunderland.

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News of her trip lit up discussion forms and blogs across the Internet and while some rang positive, the experience of 16-year-old Abby Sunderland may have had a hand in creating a rather less enthusiastic response.

Abby’s attempt to snag the record was fraught with complications. After a wave snapped her mast in the southern Indian Ocean in June, the Californian had to be rescued.

"I think sending a 14-year-old daughter - as a father of three daughters - is completely irresponsible," US Sailing president and noted sailing commentator Gary Jobson told Soundings Sailing magazine. "She can't possibly have the experience to do this. We've learned from Abby Sunderland that lots of things can happen."

Still, Laura comes prepared. In recent months she's upgraded to a 38-ft. yacht equipped with new navigation and safety equipment and obtained a first-aid diploma. She has gained more practice solo sailing and learned sleep-management techniques. And she plans to continue her schooling at sea through a distance education facility.

Taylor Michie, a 14-year-old author and sailor himself, writes in his blog that even such preparation didn’t work for Sunderland:

“Abby Sunderland was a girl, barring all controversy, who had an extensive knowledge of sailing and boating. She made it more than halfway around the world when something that no one could have possibly predicted happened: the weather. She showed us that even someone with a huge amount of experience and skill can be brought down by unpredictable weather conditions. Anything can happen when you’re at the mercy of the ocean.

"Laura was born off the coast of New Zealand on the family boat when her parents were sailing around the world. While she may have a considerable amount of skills, she has also shown us her impulsiveness. In December, she ran away from home in the Netherlands to the Bahamas, where she planned to buy a boat.”

And then there’s discussion of Laura’s route.

Laura Dekker is very young. Many people will object on that alone,” writes a blogger called Syrah. “While I find her age to be a little worrisome, I am more concerned about the route that she will travel. Jessica Watson traveled south and sailed around the three Capes, Cape Agulhas, Cape Leeuwin and Cape Horn).

Where Watson had to brave stormy seas, Dekker will have to brave filthy pirates.”

The route Laura has mapped out takes her across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Pacific through the Panama Canal. She plans to make a few stops along the way for supplies and schooling. One stop will be the Galapagos islands before she heads to Australia, Thailand, and through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden back to Europe, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Laura has been aiming to begin this journey for the better part of a year and doesn’t seem about to give up now.

The current official record is held by Mike Perham, who completed his round-the-world voyage last year when he was 17-years-old.

Jessica Watson completed the voyage in May and holds the (slightly contested) unofficial record.

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