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Dreams scuppered for Dutch sailor girl

Sailboat "Guppy" in Maurik on August 25
Miss Dekker had planned a two-year solo voyage aboard Guppy

By Rob Kievit
Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Laura Dekker says she is more of a doer than a dreamer, but with her plans to become the youngest ever person to solo circumnavigate the globe now in tatters, she will be left to ponder what might have been.

With the Dutch child protection agencies declaring her trip too dangerous, she and her 8m (26ft) yacht Guppy will be confined to dock.

Laura Dekker
Miss Dekker has faced intense media scrutiny over her plans

It is a devastating blow for the teenager who lives to sail.

"My parents have sailed around the world, they know what can happen and that it's not always fun, but because I want to do it so much they agreed and supported me," Miss Dekker told Dutch television earlier this week.

"They've taken good care of me for 13 years, so I don't know why people suddenly think they are not doing a good job."

She was not at the hearing that torpedoed her hopes on Friday. Advised to stay away as the constant media pressure was taking its toll, she spent the day sailing instead.

But it is not as if she needed to prove her commitment to the sport.

Credentials

Miss Dekker was born on a boat - in New Zealand - and when she was just 6 years old, she had already mastered control over her single-handed Optimist dinghy and was criss-crossing lakes back in the Netherlands.

I think most people would share the view [that it is not sensible for a 13-year-old to sail solo around the world]
Ray Smith,
New Zealand child protection agency

Aged 10, she moved up to a 7m boat and was honing her skills in the waters of Friesland. It was here that she encountered her first problems with the outside world, with lock-operators not always willing to allow passage to such a young girl in charge of a boat on her own.

Unperturbed and supported by her family, she spent the following summer sailing in and around the islands on the Wadden Sea and shortly after she revealed her big dream to take to the high seas and become the youngest person ever to go around the world.

Supportive but sceptical, her father told the aspiring record-breaker that she would have to prove herself first.

Intensive lessons on navigation and safety followed and then her father, Dick Dekker, dropped the news that Miss Dekker would have to sail to England and back on her own first to show him what she was capable of.

"So long on the open sea with wind, rain and waves - that will soon end any ideas of sailing the world," recalls Dick on his daughter's website.

Signs of trouble

Of course the opposite proved true and the compulsion to take on the biggest sailing challenge of all was stronger than ever, despite the fact that Miss Dekker was only 13.

Dick Dekker
Dick Dekker has tried to discourage his daughter's global voyage

But the trip to England was an omen in another sense - once Miss Dekker arrived in the UK, she was detained by the port authorities and taken into care.

The local authorities judged it too dangerous for a 13-year-old to be at sea alone and they sought to scupper the return leg. They telephoned Mr Dekker and asked him to accompany his daughter on the trip home.

When Mr Dekker refused, the English authorities in Lowestoft placed Miss Dekker in a children's home.

Miss Dekker wrote about this obliquely on her website too. "In England I met a couple who run a children's home," she wrote. "They were very kind and showed me many nice spots in England."

Ultimately, Mr Dekker travelled to the UK to collect his daughter.

But when he allowed Miss Dekker to sail back on her own anyway, the British police contacted their Dutch colleagues, who alerted the social services' youth care bureau.

And with the family then firmly on the radar of social services in the Netherlands, the next step was Friday's ban by the child protection board.

Last hope

Miss Dekker has indicated she may emigrate to New Zealand and set off from there. Having been born there, she has a New Zealand passport.

Reportedly there are no legal obstacles there to minors embarking on lengthy sea journeys, although children in New Zealand, too, are required to attend school.

But emigration does not seem to offer a way out. Ms Dekker could expect to be treated by New Zealand's child protection bodies in the same the way as she was treated in the Netherlands, New Zealand authorities were quoted as saying in Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant on Friday.

The deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Child, Youth and Family agency, Ray Smith, said he did not think it was sensible for a 13-year-old to sail solo around the world.

"I think most people would share that view," he told the New Zealand Herald.

For the time being, then, it looks as though all avenues have been exhausted and Miss Dekker will have to join her 13-year-old Dutch counterparts returning to school after the summer break.



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SEE ALSO
Dutch sailor girl put under care
28 Aug 09 |  Europe
Young sailor sets global record
27 Aug 09 |  England
Dutch bid to thwart young sailor
25 Aug 09 |  Europe

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