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I wish I'd had the spunk to attempt to sail around the world at thirteen.
August 25, 2009 4:40 PM   Subscribe

"In the beginning, they asked if I was sure I really wanted to do it," says Laura Dekker, the thirteen year old Dutch girl who wants to become the youngest person to ever sail around the world alone. "They have sailed around the world so they know what could happen and that it's not always fun, but I realize that too. But I really wanted to do it so my parents said, 'Good, we'll help you.'" (Additional Youtube link for people who don't like having to read words.)
posted by SkylitDrawl (57 comments total)

 
Zac Sunderland just set the record for being the youngest person for sailing around the world - here's him finishing up his trip on youtube (you know, for us folks who don't like to read)
posted by bigmusic at 4:47 PM on August 25, 2009


This would never happen in America. Hell, American parents don't even want to let their kids ride the subway alone.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a news story today that some child services org in der Nederlands wants to make her a ward of thew state because letting her do this is tantamount to abuse?
posted by GuyZero at 4:50 PM on August 25, 2009


Ah yes, the second last link. There we are.
posted by GuyZero at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2009


That seems like a bad idea.
posted by delmoi at 4:52 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yep, there are interviews with Zac included in the articles. What I find really interesting about Laura's story, though, is the intervention of the Dutch government. Thirteen is apparently too young for adventures because you have to skip a lot of school.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 4:52 PM on August 25, 2009


Sailing around the world at thirteen? That's where I'm a Viking!
posted by mattdidthat at 4:54 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dekker ...Dakkar..... hmmm...
posted by The Whelk at 4:54 PM on August 25, 2009


I really wonder whether she has enough experience to undertake something like this, either as a sailor or as a person. There's a reason why we have age of consent laws, minimum driving ages, voting ages etc.
Who knows if this is really what she wants to do, or if it's something her parents want for her to do? I'm thinking of all those aggressive, domineering tennis parents, or Joe McCoy from Friday Night Lights.
posted by Flashman at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2009


Can bears sail boats? I feel a meme coming on...
posted by stinkycheese at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2009


Okay, I've been out of the MeFi loop for a while - I don't get the Viking reference.
posted by Zinger at 5:06 PM on August 25, 2009


From the Google news link ("I really wanted to do it"):
"Laura has divorced parents and it is very normal for a child of this age to be very loyal to the parent (he or she) is living with," Child Protection spokesman Richard Bakker told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "How much does she identify herself with her father, who is a good sailor?"

Laura and her father appeared at a court hearing Monday to discuss the council's request, but the mother did not show up, Bakker said.

...

Laura was born in New Zealand while her parents were on a round-the-world sailing trip and spent the first four years of her life on the ocean. She was not available for comment Tuesday.

Yet speaking recently to a Dutch children's news show, Laura said she had been sailing solo since she was six and began dreaming of sailing around the world when she was 10.
She sounds like a little nautical bad-ass. I say bully for her (plus there are tracking and communications devices that make this trip much different from attempts 20 or 50 years ago).
Besides the physical hazards, experts also warn that being alone for so long at such a young age could hinder the child's emotional development.

"A 13-year-old girl is in the middle of her development and you don't do that alone — you need peers and adults," said Micha de Winter, a professor of child psychology at Utrecht University.
Interesting: what is the cut-off for children to be adult enough to experience the world alone?
Zac Sunderland, a 17-year-old from Thousand Oaks, California, grabbed the youngest solo record last month when he completed a 28,000-mile (45,000-kilometer) trip on his 36-foot (11-meter) boat in 13 months.

British sailor Mike Perham, who is a few months younger than Sunderland, is expected to snatch that record away when he completes his own round-the-world voyage in the coming days, docking in the southern English city of Portsmouth.

...

The Guinness Book of World Records would not comment specifically on her case but said it stayed away from many such records.

"(We have) a standard policy that does not sanction, endorse or encourage attempts by minors (people under the age of 16) on records which are dangerous or potentially life-threatening," Guinness spokesman Damian Field said.
So the 16 year old kid who makes it around the world will be the last one in the door. Anyone else will just be matching the record (unless they do it faster, or fighting off more pirates, or whatnot).
posted by filthy light thief at 5:09 PM on August 25, 2009


X! ... that's where I'm a viking.
posted by bigmusic at 5:10 PM on August 25, 2009


Time was she could have cut her hair, called herself Jim and gone for a cabin boy. How can you disapprove of so much spirit? (Even if, I suspect, it's rooted in sadness. Her mother didn't even show up -- ?)

I think she should compromise, and get together the youngest crew ever to sail around the world alone, with a mean age of 13.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:15 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


'Good, we'll help you.'"

Oooooh no you don't. She's going to sail around the world alone BY HERSELF.

This would never happen in America. Hell, American parents don't even want to let their kids ride the subway alone.

Relatedly<>
posted by DU at 5:16 PM on August 25, 2009


First there is Jessica Watson, who at 16 wants to break Jesse Martin's age record.

Then there is Abby Sunderland who is one year younger than Jessica.

Laura Dekker now takes it down another couple notches at age 13.

None of these three have actually set sail yet. I expect a few nine year olds will get into the act before anyone takes off.
posted by netbros at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2009


Sorry to crush your entire universe Laura, but god won't help you. Please pack reality-based flotation devices.
posted by fire&wings at 5:23 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, the Zac Sunderland thing was big news on NPR around here, and I hated it. I realize the dude is 17, so of course he's a little naive, but the amount of privilege to say, as he did in his speech once he got back, that any kid could do it with just some hard work and confidence, just bugged the shit out of me.

And I realize that it's kinda fucked up, but when I heard about Laura Dekker, without hearing the details, it didn't annoy me like Sunderland did because I assumed, apparently rightly, that the Dutch government was gonna support her. I was like, see, that's what you can do with a little bit of socialism. Way to go, Laura.

I fully admit that this makes me a bit of a dried up old bastard.
posted by klangklangston at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


This recalls to my mind the sad story of Jessica Dubroff, the seven year old who died while attempting to pilot a single engine plane across the US in 1996. Her father and flight instructor also died in the crash, blamed in equal parts on bad weather and poor judgement.

The comparison is probably unfair to Laura Dekker, but I do find their situations (and goals) to be similar, and I echo Flashman's concerns. I admire her for her ability to think big and to want to live her dreams, but I deplore her parents for supporting her attempt to do this at her current age. The oceans of the world aren't going to go away in the next five or ten years; she could attempt this at 18 or any age thereafter and have a much greater chance of succeeding, while still "enjoying" a not insignificant chance of dying in the attempt. To allow/encourage her do this at 13 seems criminally negligent on the part of her parents. I can see why the state feels it has an interest in stepping in and putting a stop to this.
posted by mosk at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Time was she could have cut her hair, called herself Jim and gone for a cabin boy. How can you disapprove of so much spirit?

Whoa, first of all let's get some perspective here. Sailing around the world, by yourself at any age is an incredibly dangerous proposition. This isn't like taking a gaunt across the Mediterranean or to Bermuda. I'm sure she's technically capable and psychologically capable, but that does not mean we should throw out the concept of being a minor out the window. Let us not forget the Jessica Dubroff and race to the bottom to become the youngest solo flyer. She's 13 fucking years old. At 13 years old I would have not only offered to go around the world, but battled Nazis and taken on a moon mission if someone offered it to me.

I'm not even saying that her parents are pushing or anything like that, but let's not put 13 year olds in the position where they can make life or death choices.
posted by geoff. at 5:39 PM on August 25, 2009


Is this like swimming the English Channel, where one is accompanied by observation boats?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:42 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking about Jessica Dubroff myself.

There are so very many reasons why this is an appallingly bad idea.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:43 PM on August 25, 2009


In reaction to the Dubroff incident, Guinness stopped recognizing "youngest pilot" records. I think that was a good instinct.

Hell, look at Steve Fossett. Cheated death dozens of times, set many records in his 40s and 50s, and still died on a Sunday stroll as it were.
posted by dhartung at 5:49 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


A 13 year old kid sailing solo around the world is an incredibly stupid idea.
Especially a girl, not due to a lack of ability or spirit, but because the world is not kind to 13 year old girls outside of liberal democracies, and even then it can be pretty tough.
But it's not my kid and she's not subject to the laws of my country, so good luck kid, and I hope your parents have some sense slapped into them.
posted by 2sheets at 5:57 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


posted by mosk This recalls to my mind the sad story of Jessica Dubroff, the seven year old who died while attempting to pilot a single engine plane across the US in 1996. Her father and flight instructor also died in the crash, blamed in equal parts on bad weather and poor judgment.

Except that Jessica Dubroff was not the pilot at the time of the crash. The NTSB investigation concluded the crash was caused by pilot in command Joe Reid's "improper decision to take off into deteriorating weather conditions (including turbulence, gusty winds, and an advancing thunderstorm and associated precipitation) when the airplane was overweight and when the density altitude was higher than he was accustomed to, resulting in a stall caused by failure to maintain airspeed." The NTSB further determined that "contributing to the pilot in command’s decision to take off was a desire to adhere to an overly ambitious itinerary, in part, because of media commitments." Link.
posted by mattdidthat at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


NPR published a story on Laure Dekker and the "super child" debate today.
posted by halogen at 6:11 PM on August 25, 2009


There was a young girl named Laura
Whose parents did truly adore her
She told them: “I’m off!”
And her gear she did doff
One of her layovers would be Turkey, capital of which was historically Angora.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:33 PM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


because the world is not kind to 13 year old girls outside of liberal democracies, and even then it can be pretty tough

It doesn't even have anything to do with nationality... I would wager that there are plenty of virile young men and skanky old men toodling around on the high seas and coastal areas who don't give a damn about honor or dignity, and out there there is no real jurisdiction. Even on the regimented confines of the Internet, I think it's a safe bet that 13-year old girls with even a slight semblance of a public profile get buried in dick pictures and creepy e-mails. I wish her all the luck in the world, but I can't say I'd let my kid do this.
posted by crapmatic at 6:57 PM on August 25, 2009


Yeah, seconding mattdidthat. Jessica Dubroff was not the pilot in command, under FAA regulations, at any time during the attempt. Since she did not hold any rating, the licensed pilot in the right seat was legally responsible for the safety aircraft and passengers, including Jessica herself. She could not have flown the aircraft solo, or earned any rating, until age 16. (Well, solo at 14 in a glider, but that's a different issue!).

I'm not sure if that's one in favor of "don't blame the kid for the accident" or "hey, adults can demonstrate poor aeronautical decision-making too!"
posted by Alterscape at 6:58 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sheesh, I should put my eight year old on a boat with a GPS, send him off and HE CAN BLOW THE RECORD RIGHT OUT OF THE WATER.

(but then his Nintendo DS would run out of power and he'd turn the boat right around and come back.)
posted by Lucinda at 7:05 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dekker ...Dakkar..... hmmm...

That's Dikkens with two Ks, the well-known Dutch author.

I actually came here to mention Jessica Watson and Jessica Dubroff... but they have been covered above [I believe the rumours that the Jessica Dubroff was very fishy, with her idiot dad doing a lot of the flying].

Jessica Watson is being encouraged and sponsored by an American couple.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:21 PM on August 25, 2009


OK, after reading the thread properly instead of jumping 20 comments, I see it was more than just a rumour.

...the world is not kind to 13 year old girls outside of liberal democracies, and even then it can be pretty tough.

'World peace' hitcher is murdered
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:29 PM on August 25, 2009


I'm for it. This whole live-in-fear thing is getting really old. Obviously different people have different levels of responsibility and maturity at different ages; she seems suited to the task.
Regarding the emotional development thing, needing peers, etc - absolutely hilarious.
posted by hypersloth at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2009


This idea is very bad.

"Since I was 10 years old, I've known that I would like to sail around the world"
A 10 year old has no idea what this means, this 45 year old can barely get his head around the implications.

"I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely."
By world I assume she means people and cultures. Sitting alone on a boat amongst an endless expanse of waves, which is where she will spend 95% of her time, is not learning about the world. It will I'm afraid be a learning experience in regretting decisions. "And live freely"? Alone and confined to a limited space is solitary confinement which is usually used as punishment.
What scares me more though is that this is not how a 13 year old speaks. It is how her parents do. Her divorced parents who can't agree anymore can agree on one thing: This sailing expedition is a good idea. "We'll help you."

Even assuming that I'm wrong about all the above there is the matter of the actual sailing. For 4 years I was on a crew racing sailboats on San Francisco Bay and occasionally on the ocean. For some reason sailing has become identified as peaceful and idyllic. It rarely is. Just the act of keeping yourself balanced, even while seated is exhausting. There are lots of things on a sailboat that can injure you. At the same time the motion of the waves and the sensation of the breeze lulls you. It's dangerous even done for a few hours at a time. One race we were in a 19 year old girl not wearing her life jacket fell overboard and drowned within 100 yards of about 30 boats, the crew from one of the boats even had her in their grasp but she slid out of her jacket as they tried to pull her aboard. The conditions were perfect for sailing, skilled sailors were all around, the Coast Guard was there in minutes. When I was a stepdad I had to remind my 13 year old to eat, I can't imagine trusting a 13 year old to wear their life jacket every day for 2 years. By the time you realize you need your life jacket it's too late. During an around the world sail there will be emergencies. Alone and exhausted in an emergency that will require strength, knowledge, experience, focus, determination, skill and luck to not die is a gamble with poor odds. If you couple that with extremely dubious reasons for being in that situation in the first place you get what seems to me a very easy decision.

This conception of this endeavor is a lovely romantic hopeful fairy tale. It is also insane. I hope I'm proven wrong.
posted by vapidave at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sitting alone on a boat amongst an endless expanse of waves, which is where she will spend 95% of her time, is not learning about the world. It will I'm afraid be a learning experience in regretting decisions.

Jesse Martin, mentioned above, got it in his head to go on some hippy dippy trip with 3 friends [as a follow-up to his famous solo voyage].

His aim was to take four friends aboard the 16.5m timber ketch on a three-year, around-the-world voyage in search of paradise and wild adventures in exotic places..

They gave up about 1/4 of the way thru because they were fighting so much. Oh, yeah, and they managed to sail their boat onto a reef. I think that was the final straw.

Ya have to laugh.

Don't you?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:19 PM on August 25, 2009


Not only is is bad for this poor little bastard, but Australian emergency services et al (usually the navy) have spent literally millions and millions of dollars bailing out these morons when the inevitable happens and they capsize/get into trouble.

A teenager can be forgiven for being both ignorant and incredibly selfish (it's a pretty natural state of affairs, after all), but it takes a special sense of entitlement for an adult to feel they justify an aircraft carrier or destroyer and its hundreds of crew travelling halfway across an ocean to save them when they know how likely trouble is.
posted by smoke at 9:11 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Not only is is bad for this poor little bastard, but Australian emergency services et al (usually the navy) have spent literally millions and millions of dollars bailing out these morons when the inevitable happens and they capsize/get into trouble.

Think of it as a training exercise!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:33 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm with vapidave; some posters on another thread thought she'd be trailed by another boat monitoring her, but no, her insane parents are happy to put their lovely sweet 13-year-old kid in a goddamn boat on the goddamn ocean all by herself for months and months, never mind storms, breakdowns, injuries, accidents, or running into god knows who out there on the ocean with her.

And probably patting themselves on the back about how liberated they are, raising their free-range kid, empowering her to do something incredibly goddamn dangerous just to set a goddamn record.

We don't let 13-year-olds drive, or vote, or get married, or hang out in strip clubs. Because they're not old enough no matter how much they want to be, and they are likely to get victimized or just do something stupid. Possibly fatally so.

Here's how you empower a 13-year-old; teach them how to handle money. Enroll them in athletics. Send them on camping trips with responsible adults. Let them start their own business. Or if you want to go boating around the world, go with them and with a good crew, safely and sanely. It's not as exciting a newspaper story, but your chances of having to pick out their headstone are markedly smaller.

Parenting fail. Massive parenting fail.
posted by emjaybee at 9:36 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Did anyone RTFA?

She is not planning to set sail until after she is 16. This is not a 13 year old sailing solo around the world as some comments seem to suggest.

I know, I know, even at 16 you have to question their judgement and maturity to make momentous decisions like this. But in western societies at least, 16 is old enough to start making adult decisions... old enough to drink alcohol in England, to drive a car in the US, consent to have sex in Australia. There is a lot of growing up that happens between 13 and 16.
posted by joz at 10:34 PM on August 25, 2009


Oops my bad... I followed a link to the wrong website and was reading about Jessica Watson.

Sorry! Laura Dekker is indeed planning to go very soon, while she is still 13 I think...
posted by joz at 10:38 PM on August 25, 2009


Sitting alone on a boat amongst an endless expanse of waves, which is where she will spend 95% of her time

16-21 year old Robin Lee Graham seemed to meet a lot of folks all around the world. Heck he got married during his voyage. Of course it took him 5 years to circumnavigate.
posted by Jahaza at 10:44 PM on August 25, 2009


So, is circumnavigation child abuse?
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 PM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


So, is circumnavigation child abuse?

Matron!

Funny, that's how I initially read it, too.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:20 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing some footage (can't find it on web though) of Jesse Martin during his circumnavigation - at one point he was bawling into the camera he took with him, Scared Out of His Mind.

But she should be fine.
posted by awfurby at 1:00 AM on August 26, 2009


at one point he was bawling into the camera he took with him, Scared Out of His Mind.

I worked with a fella who did ocean racing, in fact he was my boss for about two years. He did a few Whitbreads and a few America's Cups so the guy was fairly much elite. He was a big, no necked grinder by trade but - as you probably do on around the world races - was steering the boat at the time.

They were in a massive storm bordering iceberg territory and his boat was at the mercy of the sea. It got to the crest of one massive wave and was heading pretty much vertically back down... right into the path of a fuck-off-big blue whale.

Long story short: Said his prayers. Knew they were all dead. To this day he doesn't know what went right, but obviously lived to tell the tale. Fair dinkum shat his britches, he said.

//I thought to ask "how could you be sure it was a blue whale?" but enjoyed the story too much not to ask him such a wanker question. :)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:37 AM on August 26, 2009


I'm still for it. I think I'm the same person I was at age 13, when I was living in Germany, allowed to go anywhere as long as I was home by dark. In the summer, I could go two countries over and be home by dark.

I know this is different because it's not just Europe, but who is anyone to belittle her vision? Shit, for typical Americans my experience would be traumatic.
Who is anyone to judge her development/freedom? Who owns the planet? She wants to roam, let her, it's her planet too.
Worst case scenario, it ends up like the horror stories we hear, but those are more rare than the fear media would have you believe, and if we get more good stories than bad, we'll get less bad stories..
posted by hypersloth at 5:46 AM on August 26, 2009


I'm saying I trust fellow humans to help a girl in her quest more than I trust them to take advantage of her, no matter where on the globe she finds herself.
Yes, despite the story of the peace-loving hitchhiker.
It's horrible, but no reason to quit trying.
posted by hypersloth at 5:53 AM on August 26, 2009


.
posted by electroboy at 6:28 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is the point in being precocious other than getting media attention? I recall once seeing an article about an 11 yr old girl who was killed flying a plane with her mother or father, and she'd gained media attention for what she was doing.
posted by anniecat at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2009


I see what you did there, electroboy!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:19 AM on August 26, 2009


British sailor Mike Perham, who is a few months younger than Sunderland, is expected to snatch that record away when he completes his own round-the-world voyage in the coming days, docking in the southern English city of Portsmouth.

He did it!

Perham Becomes Youngest Person To Sail Solo Around The World
posted by ericb at 10:27 PM on August 27, 2009


So, is circumnavigation child abuse?

No, but some consider circumcision such.
posted by ericb at 10:38 PM on August 27, 2009


Previous Zac Sunderland (and Jesse Martin) MeFi threads -- 1 || 2.
posted by ericb at 10:43 PM on August 27, 2009


16-21 year old Robin Lee Graham...

In 1970 16 year-old Robin Lee Graham left Los Angeles, California but did not finish his voyage until 1970 (at the age of 20) via two separate boats. He wrote an interesting book based on his experience, 'Dove,' which later became a movie (1974)*.
posted by ericb at 10:49 PM on August 27, 2009


*In 1965 16 year-old Robin Lee Graham left Los Angeles, California ...*
posted by ericb at 11:31 PM on August 27, 2009


Give me a little credit for knowing MeFi joke history, Ericb.
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 AM on August 28, 2009


Dutch delay 13-year-old sailor's worldwide trip -- "State takes guardianship of teen to assess her ability to undertake voyage."
posted by ericb at 7:42 AM on August 28, 2009


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