Tue, Jan 24, 2012 - Page 4 News List

Dutch record-setter threatens never to return home

FUlFILLING A DREAM:The 16-year-old teen arrived back in St Martin on Saturday after year alone at sea, still angry at her treatment at the hands of Dutch officials

The Guardian

Laura Dekker waves to wellwishers upon arrival in the port of St Martin, Dutch Carribbean, on Saturday after her solo trip around the world.

Photo: EPA

Laura Dekker, a 16-year-old Dutch sailor who has become the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe single-handed, has threatened never to return to the Netherlands because of the government’s resistance to her adventures.

Dekker arrived on St Martin on Saturday aboard her 11.5m boat, Guppy, and admitted she sometimes wondered what she was doing during her voyage. She also described her battles with the Dutch authorities, who wanted to prevent her setting sail, as a frightening and traumatic experience and said she was discussing with her parents the possibility of moving abroad, most likely to New Zealand.

When Dekker sailed into harbor at the St Martin yacht club late on Saturday night, aged 16 years and 123 days, she was met by crowds of wellwishers and stepped on to the dock accompanied by her mother, Babs Muller, her father, Dick Dekker, and her sister and grandparents.

“There were moments where I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ but I never wanted to stop,” she told reporters after struggling against high seas and heavy winds on the final 41-day leg from Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.”

Courts in the Netherlands originally refused to allow Laura to embark on the voyage when she was 14, and she was put under the guardianship of Dutch protection agencies on the grounds that she was too young to look after herself at sea.

She finally won her battle with the courts in July 2010 and set sail from St Martin on Jan. 20 last year.

Laura was born to parents living on a boat near the coast of New Zealand and first sailed solo at six years old, around which time her parents divorced and she went to live with her father. Friends have described her as intelligent, independent and disciplined. She has said her dream of crossing the globe began at the age of 10.

She celebrated her 16th birthday during the trip, eating doughnuts for breakfast after spending time at port with her father and friends in Darwin, Australia.

The journey included stops in the Canary Islands, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Bora Bora and Australia. She told how her boat was drenched by a whale in South Africa and a flying fish slapped into her head in the Caribbean.

“I became good friends with my boat,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself.”

“Her story is just amazing,” said one of Dekker’s fans, 10-year-old Jody Bell of Connecticut who was in St Martin to witness her arrival. “I can’t imagine someone her age going out on the sea all by herself.”

“My daughter and I have been following Laura’s story, and we think it’s amazing and inspiring,” added Deena Merlen, Jody’s mother.

Laura set sail two months after Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old US sailor, was rescued in the middle of the Indian Ocean during a similar attempt. Jessica Watson of Australia completed a 210-day solo voyage at 16, a few months older than Laura.

“The Dutch government was not kind to me,” Laura wrote on her blog last week. “It was never my intention to be the center of world news. From the moment my plans became public, Youth Care and other government organizations tried to stop me. During the first court case, in August 2009, they asked the judge to take me away from my father and to lock me up in a secure clinic.

“Now, after sailing around the world, with difficult port approaches, storms, dangerous reefs, and the full responsibility of keeping myself and Guppy safe, I feel that the nightmares the Dutch government organizations put me through were totally unfair. I am seriously thinking about not returning to the Netherlands. Of course I will discuss this with my parents,” she wrote.

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