Dutch sailor, 14, gets OK for solo world trip

Dutch sailor, 14, gets OK for solo world trip
# 28 July 2010 01:34 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. A Dutch court cleared the way Tuesday for 14-year-old Laura Dekker to embark on a risky attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, an adventure that could begin in the next two weeks, APA reports quoting The Associated Press.
Judges at Middelburg’s family court lifted a guardianship order imposed on Dekker last year after she said she wanted to set sail when she was still just 13.
Her plan ignited a worldwide debate on how far parents should go in supporting or encouraging their children’s improbable dreams.
"With this decision, the responsibility for Laura lies with her parents," said presiding judge S. Kuypers. "It is up to them to decide whether Laura can set off on her sail trip."
Both of Laura’s parents, who are separated, say they support her attempt.
Dekker was not in court for Tuesday’s decision. Her lawyer, Peter de Lange, said she was on her boat, Guppy, and would be delighted by the decision.
"She will be unbelievable happy with this," De Lange said. "Justice has been done."
Dekker could set off for her starting point in Portugal within two weeks, he said.
The Council for Child Protection, the Dutch government’s umbrella childcare agency, had asked the court to extend for another year a guardianship order that had prevented Dekker from sailing.
The agency will study the court’s decision, spokesman Richard Bakker said. It can decide to appeal.
In a surprising difference of opinion, the youth protection group looking after Dekker had disagreed with the Council and said she was ready to sail.
Writing on her blog last weekend, Dekker was hopeful the court would lift the order, saying she took comfort from the fact that the welfare workers who have monitored her education and preparations for months believe she is ready.
"She is looking forward to making the journey," De Lange said.
Since making headlines around the world last year as a 13-year-old, Dekker has obtained a bigger boat and equipped it with modern navigation and safety equipment. She has also studied everything from how to stitch her own wounds, to how to cope with sleep deprivation and how to put out fires onboard her 11.5-meter (38-foot) twin-mast ketch.
"Laura has worked very hard in recent weeks on her survival techniques," De Lange said.
"If everything works out the way I want, I can leave for Portugal sometime in the next two weeks," she wrote in her blog.
In anticipation of a favorable ruling, she recently fitted the boat with new cushions and a new sail — both in her favorite color, red — and a sunshade.
Dekker and her supporters have carefully plotted a nearly two-year route from port to port around the world — including an alternative path around Africa to avoid the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden if necessary.
Despite the meticulous preparations, the Council for Child Protection said it remains concerned about her mental and physical development during such a long and lonely trip.
Sailing is in Dekker’s blood. She was born on a yacht in New Zealand waters while her parents were sailing around the world and holds New Zealand and Dutch passports. While her father has always backed Dekker’s plan, her mother initially opposed it before giving her daughter her blessing earlier this year.
Dekker could now become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, beating the mark now held by Australian 16-year-old Jessica Watson.
Watson spent 210 days successfully maneuvering her 34-foot (10-meter) yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, around the world, encountering raging storms and 40-foot (12-meter) waves along the way.
But the risks of such solo voyages were highlighted in June, when a 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of California had to be rescued from her solo trip after a rogue wave snapped her mast in the southern Indian Ocean.
Sunderland was rescued by a French fishing boat more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia two days after the alarm was raised.
Sunderland’s parents faced fierce criticism for letting her attempt the trip and for the tens of thousands spent by emergency teams on her rescue. However, they faced no backlash a year earlier, when Abby’s older brother Zac completed the same journey at 17, briefly holding the record for being the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator.

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