Early in 2010, American sailor Abby Sunderland, at age16, attempted to become the youngest sailor to circumvent the globe. She failed, and was rescued from the Indian Ocean on June 12, 2010. The following August, another 16 year old from Holland, Laura Dekker, announced that she would attempt to be the youngest person to sail around the world on her own.
Laura Dekker - Wikimedia
Laura Dekker was born in New Zealand when her parents pulled into shore in Whangarei to take a rest from their seven-year trip on the ocean to give birth to Laura. The next several years of her life were spent mostly on their boat as the family traveled the world with their baby in tow.
When her parents divorced when she was seven years old, Laura chose to stay with her father, whose profession was boat building and his life was always on or near water. When Laura was 14, she decided that she wanted to sail solo around the world. Child Protective Services in Holland forbade her parents from allowing Laura to achieve her dream, and the Dekkers fought for their cause in the courts for ten months. Their lawyer finally convinced the authorities that Laura was more than capable of this undertaking. Laura and her father picked up a relatively inexpensive, broken down, 38-foot boat and fixed it up themselves. Laura named her boat “Guppy.”
Laura's Boat - "Guppy"
Credit: Lighthouse Rotor Sand - Wikimedia
She then began her journey on August 21, 2010, leaving Holland and heading first for Gibraltar and the Canary Islands. It was to be a two-year trip. Her plan was not to stay entirely on her boat for two years, but to pull into shore at several points to familiarize herself with the people and the territory. Her first land excursion was on the Canary Islands.
From there, she went to Cape Verde in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. The next lap of her journey took her 2200 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to St. Maarten in the Caribbean Sea. At this point, she encountered a great deal of rain which flooded her deck. The viewer was able to take the trip vicariously with her since she had set up a camera on board which followed her while she spoke. She seemed fearless during the storm, although she did admit that she was frightened at times. We were able to view a beautiful rainbow at one point in this leg of her journey, which lasted for 17 days across the Atlantic until she reached St. Maarten.
Laura’s mother and her younger sister Kim were able to meet her in St. Maarten which was a great joy for her. A trip to the grocery store and to the laundromat were in order at this time. We got a view of her laundry drying on the various rope lines on “Guppy.” Kim lived with their mother, and although the girls did not see each other often, Laura stated that they had a nice relationship.
Laura's Route Around the World - Wikimedia
From St. Maarten, she headed toward the San Blas Islands, which are close to the Panama Canal. On one of the island, she met an older couple named Mike and Deana who were also on a sailing excursion. They bonded to the point where Laura felt more like a daughter than a friend. It was hard to leave them when it was time to go.
Her trip through the Panama Canal was exciting for me because in 1995 I had taken a Caribbean Cruise which took us through the Canal. It brought back memories for me, as it was a highlight of my tour and I felt as though I recognized the area as Laura’s boat moved through the locks.
Laura related that she was now at a turning point in her trip. After going through the Panama Canal, she was at the point of no return. She had to go forward.
Panama Canal - Wikimedia
Her next destination was the Galapagos Islands off the west coast of South America, close to the equator. We learned that crossing the equator is a “big deal” and boats which experience this usually have a party to celebrate the occasion. By radio, Laura was in contact with another boat which was crossing at the same time, and she was able to hear the shouts of glee from the passengers as they crossed over.
On one of the Galapagos Islands, she went Scuba diving, and we were able to see the marine life that she saw under water. It was a truly a beautiful sight. At each segment of the film, my admiration for this young lady increased more and more. She was born to live on the ocean, it seemed.
Laura considered her sail across the Pacific Ocean to be the most beautiful part of her journey. Pacific, of course, means peaceful, and she did indeed experience the peace that comes with such an undertaking. She was headed for French Polynesia in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean. You may be familiar with parts of this archipelago that we know as the Society Islands, Tahiti, and Bora Bora.
Australia, Indian Ocean, South Pacific Ocean - Wikimedia
At one point, Laura’s parents had taken this same route to French Polynesia, and it had taken them 19 days. Laura made it in 18 days. She considered the area to be Paradise, and spent a couple days on each of the islands. We learned that Customs officials are very strict in each country, and they had to know the date on which she planned to leave. Laura said she was unable to tell them, because it depended on how the wind was that day; she had to leave when the wind was just right.
Darwin, Australia, her next port-of-call, was 2400 miles away. She was excited because her father was going to meet her in Darwin. This leg of her journey took another 18 days. She had to pass through the Torres Strait which lies between Australia and New Guinea. She experienced more rain and thunder here, and the boat was getting too close to the reefs, and waves were splashing all over. Her steering wheel had fallen off, and she was glad that she would soon meet up with her father who would help her with some much-needed repairs to the boat. She passed by New Zealand, and was sad that she could not go ashore at that time to the place of her birth. It happened to be the 365th day of her adventure.
Laura met her father at the Darwin Airport, and yes, he did help her with the repairs on the boat. In Darwin, she was able to purchase a New Zealand flag because she wanted to substitute her Holland flag for the flag of her birthplace. She was still furious at the Holland authorities who did not think she was capable of a solo trip around the world. She holds dual citizenship with Holland and New Zealand.
After leaving her father in Australia, she headed for the Indian Ocean which was a trip of 6000 miles. It took her 12 days because there was no wind and she was only able to sail at a rate of 0.2 knots.
Cape of Good Hope, Africa - Wikimedia
Laura’s destination at this point was Durban, South Africa on the coast of the Indian Ocean. From there, she headed for Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope which would take her in an indirect manner from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. She experienced thunderstorms and high waves at this juncture.
At this point, she had crossed the three largest oceans: the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian. The South Atlantic was awaiting her. She did not want to go back to Holland; she decided to go back to St. Maarten which would seal her bargain to sail around the world. The South Atlantic crossing would be 6000 miles.
Her mother and dad and her sister Kim were there to greet her when she arrived in St. Maarten. At 16 years of age, she had traveled 27,000 miles around the world. Her journey had begun on August, 21, 2010 and she arrived in St. Maarten again on January 21, 2012.
Laura chose to go to New Zealand rather than to go back to Holland. She retraced her route back through the Panama Canal and reached New Zealand where she lives today on the “Guppy” with her husband Daniel, whom she married when she was 19 ½ years old.