News & Views

Teen Sailor Busted

 

Theory has it that publicizing teen suicides just encourages more kids to off themselves. So I've been a good little blogger and have kept my laptop shut about this neverending kids-who-want-to-sail-around-the-world-alone-and-break-a-record story. But this past weekend the whole phenomenon went beyond weird when the youngest and most enigmatic of the current trio of contenders, Laura Dekker, age 14, escaped from the watchful eye of the Dutch government, which effectively had her under house arrest, and lit out for St. Maarten.

By plane, that is. The rather small boat, a 26-foot sloop named Guppy, that she would like to sail around the world solo is still sitting on its mooring in the Netherlands. Apparently Laura went missing last Friday, an international APB was issued, someone spotted her yesterday in SXM, and now she has been detained and is being sent home under a police escort.

 

 

It would be easy to condemn this as a pathetic bid for attention. But unlike her 16-year-old peers--Jessica Watson (from Australia, who is currently trying to sail around the world non-stop via the Southern Ocean aboard an S&S 34 called Ella's Pink Lady) and Abby Sunderland (from California, who is hoping to depart soon on a similar voyage aboard an Open 40 called Wild Eyes)--Laura has sought no sponsors, has not built a website all about herself, and seems genuinely more interested in just going for a long cruise alone on her boat. She was born on a bluewater cruising boat, spent the first four years of her life afloat, has owned a boat since age six, and already has extensive experience sailing Guppy on her own. And while Jessica and Abby are going for broke with non-stop high-latitude bids, Laura wants to take two years on a more conservative equatorial route and smell a few roses en route.

It seems likely that Laura's flight to the Caribbean was a bid to escape Dutch jurisdiction. Back in August, when a Dutch court put the kabosh on her cruise and made her a ward of the state, there were some reports that she was planning to emigrate to New Zealand, where she also holds a passport (she was in Kiwi waters when she was born aboard her parents' boat), in hopes of being allowed to set sail from there.

I don't really approve of the youngest solo-circumnavigation record game. I have no doubt that both Jessica and Abby are decent sailors. But I wasn't too impressed when Jessica managed to get hit by a freighter during a sea-trial prior to her departure. And I definitely don't think any teenager should be sailing solo in the Southern Ocean on a boat as a high-strung and sophisticated as an Open 40. This is a bit like giving a kid with a new driver's license the keys to a Formula One car and letting them loose on the track at Monaco.


[Jessica Watson aboard the dismasted Ella's Pink Lady]


[Abby Sunderland aboard Wild Eyes]

But I also don't much like the idea of any government being able to prevent a kid with a dream from pursuing it. So I'm rooting for Laura, but not the other two.

Just don't tell anyone I told you so.

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