Dutch 14-year-old sets sail for solo world voyage

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker headed for the open sea on Wednesday after winning a year-long battle with child welfare authorities over her ambition to become the youngest person to sail the globe solo.

Laura (14) departed from the south-western Netherlands on her 11,5m ketch, Guppy, headed initially for Portugal with her father to complete final preparations before starting the official solo part of her journey from there.

A Dutch court ended state supervision of Laura last week, saying she had met all conditions imposed by child welfare authorities and that the journey would pose no risk to her social and emotional development.

“Since I was eight years old, I wanted to sail around the world and when I was 10 I was really sure I wanted to sail off, but then my parents didn’t approve of it,” Laura said while on the pier next to her boat, shortly before departure.

A large crowd of journalists and observers came to watch Laura set off and she was followed in the water by other boats as she sailed towards the open sea.

“We want to be sure that the boat is completely ready, so this is the last test sail, and from Portugal I start officially by myself, sailing alone towards the Canary Islands,” she said.

Laura, an experienced sailor who was born on her parents’ boat in New Zealand, aims to beat the record for the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

Her ambition, however, has raised concerns about increasingly younger sailors attempting such voyages.

Last month, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland from California was rescued by a French fishing vessel 2 000 off the Australian coast in the Indian Ocean during a round-the-world solo attempt after her mast snapped.

But Laura’s lawyer, Peter de Lange, said she had studied that incident closely and concluded Abby was in the “wrong boat, at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Rather than racing against time, Laura would avoid the storm periods, he said. She will still need to return to Lisbon no later than September 16 2012, if she wishes to break the record.

Australian teenager Jessica Watson (16) returned to Sydney harbour in May to become the youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world.

Dutch welfare authorities raised concerns last year about Laura attempting such a voyage, winning court rulings placing her under supervision.

The courts ordered Laura to undergo emergency training, delay her departure, finish another year of school and complete a first aid course. Her boat has also been fitted out with improved radar and communications equipment. — Reuters

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