Image: Laura Dekker
Michael Kooren  /  Reuters
Laura Dekker of the Netherlands waves as she sails her boat Guppy out of the harbor of Den Osse, Netherlands, on Wednesday.
updated 8/4/2010 3:27:58 PM ET 2010-08-04T19:27:58

She's not afraid of pirates. She's packed plenty of school books. And she's going to miss her family and her dog, Spot.

Laura Dekker, 14, hopped onto her boat Wednesday and sailed off from the Netherlands hoping to become the youngest person to make a solo voyage around the world.

About 100 supporters waved as Laura and her father Dick Dekker left the southern Dutch harbor of Den Osse in her 38-foot yacht Guppy, bound for Portugal where she plans to leave her father and begin her circumnavigation attempt.

Last week, Laura won a legal battle when a court released her from the guardianship of Dutch child protection agencies. They had blocked her initial plan to depart at age 13 over fears for her safety and psychological health during the trip, which will likely take around a year.

"I can be sailing now, and that's great!" she told reporters Wednesday, sporting a skull-emblazoned black T-shirt.

Dekker hoisted the black Jolly Roger-like flag of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society above her red twin-masted ketch — the same image she wore on her shirt — before sailing out.

Laura, who was born on a yacht off the coast of New Zealand, has been working to counter objections to her voyage since the authorities stepped in last year. She got a bigger, sturdier boat, took courses in first aid and practiced coping with sleep deprivation. She also made at least one solo trip across the North Sea to England.

The Dutch court ruled that Laura's preparations were adequate and it was up to her parents, who are divorced, to decide whether to let her make the attempt. Her mother, Babs Mueller, recently withdrew her opposition to the plan.

Dekker's case has fueled a global debate over the wisdom of allowing ever-younger sailors to take on the tremendous risks of sailing the high seas alone.

If she completes the voyage, any record she claims would be unofficial and likely to be challenged. The Guinness' World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council have decided they will no longer recognize records for "youngest" sailors to avoid encouraging overly optimistic youths backed by ambitious parents from seeking a world record.

In June, 16-year-old American teen Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during an attempt to circle the globe. A huge wave snapped her mast and left her helpless until she was eventually rescued by a French fishing boat more than 2,000 miles west of Australia.

  1. Related stories
    1. TODAY
      Did Sunderlands want TV fame?

      June 15: Allegations swirl that teen sailor Abby Sunderland’s family was seeking fame via reality-TV.

    2. Critics call teen’s round-the-world sail a stunt
    1. TODAY
      After rescue, she eyes ‘another try’

      June 14: Abby Sunderland may have left behind a broken boat, but her passion for sailing is still intact.

    2. Rescue boat nearing stranded teen sailor
    1. TODAY
      Teen sailor’s dad ‘happy she’s safe’

      June 12: The parents who let their 16-year-old try to sail the world solo address their critics.

    2. Interactive map: Abby Sunderland’s route
Her parents were sharply criticized for allowing her to undertake the trip - a complete turnaround from the praise the family had basked in a year earlier when Abby's older brother Zac successfully captured the world record for youngest solo circumnavigator at age 17.

Three months ago, Australian Jessica Watson, completed a 210-day voyage on her 34-foot yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, around the world at age 16.

But while Watson remained at sea nonstop, Laura plans to stop at dozens of ports along the way to meet her family, rest, stock up and make boat repairs. She hasn't ruled out returning home to catch up on her studies if necessary before resuming her trip.

Laura conceded her trip "is a little bit different as the old ones, because they do it nonstop and I will do with stops."

Asked whether she was afraid of pirates in the Gulf of Aden, she said no, she expected to travel in a protected convoy through that area.

"Most people say it is a big problem, but there are so many yachts that will get in this water, and then we will sail all together," she said.

Although she appeared to be living the dream of every teen - to escape the parents - Laura knew there would be some things she would miss in her months at sea.

"My dog. My family," she said in response to a reporter's question.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments