Tue, Dec 21, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Dutch teenager on solo voyage reaches St Maarten

AP, PHILIPSBURG, ST MAARTEN

A 15-year-old Dutch sailor on Sunday completed the longest leg so far of her attempted circumnavigation of the globe, saying it felt “really weird” to be back on dry land after nearly three weeks out in the ocean.

Fifteen-year-old Laura Dekker, aiming to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, was in good spirits after completing the 2,200 nautical mile (4,074km) trip from the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa to St Maarten.

Dekker anchored Guppy, her 11.5m ketch, just outside Simpson Bay Lagoon after what she called “a very nice trip” so far.

She later steered it into the lagoon as a crowd gathered at the docks and snapped pictures.

“It’s really weird. It’s not moving and not bouncy,” she said as she tried to find her land legs while strolling in flip-flops along a sidewalk to the island’s immigration office. “I don’t think I can live in a house at the moment.”

The teenager started her trip from Gibraltar on Aug. 21 and spent two months in the Canary Islands waiting for the hurricane season to pass. She left the Cape Verde Islands on Dec. 2.

Dekker’s venture stirred an intense debate about whether young people should be allowed to sail the world’s oceans alone. A Dutch court originally blocked the voyage and only permitted her to set off after she took measures to manage the risks.

She bought a bigger, sturdier boat than the one she originally planned to use, fitted it with advanced navigation and radar equipment, and took courses in first aid and coping with sleep deprivation.

In the end, the Dutch court ruled that her preparations were adequate and it was up to her parents, who are divorced, to decide whether to let her make the attempt. Dekker was born on a boat off New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world.

On Sunday, she said that she wasn’t sure how long she would stay in St Maarten or precisely where her next leg would take her.

“I will just stay here now for a bit and I will think about that,” Dekker said. “I’ve not really a plan. I just want to be in the Panama Canal in May, April, so until that time I will cross the islands, I think.”

Dekker plans to stop at dozens of ports and may even return home to catch up on her studies before resuming her trip.

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