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Dutch police seek to explain young sailor's trip

Image: Laura Dekker
Laura Dekker, seen in this file photo with her father Dick Dekker, was reportedly carrying $5,000 in cash when she was found on St. Maarten.Valerie Kuypers / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world shattered and under scrutiny over her quest, Dutch teenager Laura Dekker ran away from home — to the Caribbean 5,000 miles away.

Two days after she was reported missing, police managed to track the 14-year-old girl down on the island of St. Maarten.

Police and child care authorities worked Monday to uncover how exactly Laura got there and why she fled, as a family spokeswoman speculated that the pressure of a court battle over the attempt had gotten to her.

St. Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson said Dekker arrived on the island Thursday from Paris.

She flew out Monday dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She was carrying several bags, a small suitcase and a guitar.

It remained unclear if she had any plans to use the island, half of which is part of the Netherlands Antilles, as a start point for a sailing voyage.

She made international headlines in August when a court temporarily blocked her bid to set sail alone around the world in her 26-foot yacht Guppy.

If Laura were to get permission to set off on the voyage and successfully complete it, she would break a record set this year by 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain, who sailed 28,000 miles around the world in nine months.

A 16-year-old Australian girl, Jessica Watson, is currently trying to beat Perham's record.

Too young?
The Utrecht District Court ruled in October that Laura was too inexperienced for the marathon voyage. Judges sent her home to live with her divorced father and appointed a temporary guardian to ensure she did not set off on the voyage. They urged her to make better preparations and said they would reconsider her case in July.

Laura was born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world. She is widely acknowledged — even by the judges — to be an excellent sailor.

Her parents have since divorced and Laura lives with her father, who is seen as a driving force behind her sailing plan. Instead of calling authorities when she went missing, her father called her mother who in turn informed police Friday. She was spotted and detained on St. Maarten on Sunday.

Laura's mother has remained largely out of the picture, but she has said she considered her daughter too young to make the round-the-world trip.

In recent weeks she had been feeling drained by the pressure, family spokeswoman Mariska Woertman said.

"For her it was a big disappointment that the judges wouldn't let her go," Woertman said. "For a child of 14 years old it's probably a bit difficult to grasp." She said Laura had "a gut feeling" the court would not let her set sail next year either.

Laura was expected to arrive back in the Netherlands on a flight early Tuesday, police spokesman Bernhard Jens said. Police will then ask her how she managed to slip out of the country last week and whether anybody helped her.

"We have a number of questions for her," Jens said. "How did this happen? Why did you go? How did you go? Did you go with somebody else?"

Her family has similar questions, Woertman told The Associated Press.

Having spoken briefly with her Sunday, Woertman said she was doing well "under the circumstances."

'Looking for some order'
oost Lanshage of Bureau Youth Care, which appointed Laura's temporary court-ordered guardian, said the court's ban on her trip had hit her hard.

"She had a dream and it fell apart — that round-the-world trip," he said. "In the end she collapsed under the weight of the attention that generated and the dream being shattered. She is looking for some order."

What happens after authorities have spoken to Laura and whether she will be allowed to remain living with her father has yet to be decided. A court spokesman said any decision was up to her temporary guardian but would have to be approved by judges.

Lanshage said his organization spoke to both Laura and her father last week before she fled, but declined to give details, citing privacy rules.

It is possible she could be taken into state care, said Richard Bakker, a spokesman for the government's Child Protection Agency.

Woertman would not speculate on her future or her ambitious travel plans.

"We hope we will be able to make things clear for her in her head and her heart," she said. "It has all been very emotional for her."