Success Is Great!

January 21st, 2012

By Dan Miller

If at first the jerks try to stop you, try again.

Laura DekkerLaura Dekker, a then thirteen year old young lady from the Netherlands, had long wanted to sail solo around the world in her twenty-six foot sailboat Guppy.  Although delayed by Dutch officials she didn’t yield and was eventually able to do it. Now sixteen, she is scheduled to arrive today back at the Dutch island of St. Martin, from whence she finally was able to start her voyage on January 20, 2011.

I wrote about her rocky and governmentally impaired start here.  I then observed,

The teenager, born on a yacht in New Zealand waters, spent the first four years of her life at sea and had hoped to start a two-year solo circumnavigation in September when she was still 13.

Her separated parents disagreed over the ambition. Her mother, Babs Muller, said her daughter was technically capable but worried about her loneliness at sea and safety in ports. Her father, Dick Dekker, a keen sailor with whom she lived, was in favor.

According to news reports, Laura evaded authorities in December and made her way by air to the Dutch island territory of St. Martin in the Caribbean, where she was found and returned to Holland.

Sailing solo around the world in a small boat is a big and potentially dangerous deal. However, many have done it, though probably none that young. Among other things, help is generally a long way off if needed while far offshore in open ocean, and it is physically impossible to have someone stand watch twenty-four hours per day.

Many other teens, only slightly older than Laura, have done it. They found it an exciting, difficult, and fulfilling voyage.

Ms. Dekker is now at home with her father, and the Dutch court now seems to be more sympathetic:

According to earlier media reports, Laura ran away from home [to begin her voyage from St. Martin] because she feels the court is frustrating her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Child protection officers are concerned about her safety and the court has said it wants to be sure Laura can cope with the two-year trip.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the judges laid down concrete conditions for allowing the trip. … They said that she should see these conditions as a chance to prove herself rather than as restrictions. For example, Laura must follow a first aid course and make a number of sailing trips abroad to prepare for her proposed round-the-world journey.

According to her lawyer, the judges want to help Laura so that she can make her world trip in three months time.

Bloody good for them! The Dutch have long been a seafaring nation, and it is refreshing to see some of that heritage evidence itself in a judicial decision.

And now she has succeeded! Many of the things we want to do are difficult, dangerous, uncommon and even unprecedented.  If they don’t harm others, we really want to do them and have the ability we should.  Ms. Deckker’s solo voyage met those requirements and, even though I have never met her, I’m very, very proud of her and of what she did.  Perhaps not unique in the strict and literal sense of the word, she is a far more than a merely “special” person.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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4 Responses to “Success Is Great!”

  1. Tom Carter |

    Here’s a good video with an interview with Laura and a good look at her boat.

    Great testimonial on the human spirit and the determination to succeed at difficult endeavors. Her achievement also proves that all teenagers these days aren’t lost souls. The only footnote might be that she stopped at numerous ports, sometimes for extended periods, where in each case she was met by a support team that took care of her.

    I don’t question Laura’s accomplishment or her skills and courage. However, I do question her father’s judgment in promoting and supporting the effort. One reason most record-keeping organizations have stopped keeping “youngest ever” records is because these things can end in tragedy. Even though she skipped port-to-port with lots of rest at each stop, she was just one good storm away from being a tragic story rather than a triumph.

  2. Dan Miller |


    I found that the closer one is to land on a ship or a boat, as for example, entering and leaving port, the more hazards there are. The recent problems of the Italian cruise ship support that view. I strongly suspect that Miss Dekker’s father understood her capabilities very well and, as a competent seaman himself, would have prevented her voyage had he been concerned about her competence.

    There are always dangers of the sea, just as there are always dangers with life everywhere. Flying helicopters and even fixed wing aircraft can be dangerous, particularly for those too incompetent to fly them well and too incompetent or too lazy to do adequate pre-flight inspections to make sure that those charged with maintenance did their jobs properly. Even so, there are always risks.

    She done good and I wish there were millions more like her. I wonder how many OWS folks could do or would even consider doing what she did. Not many, I suspect.

  3. Tom Carter |

    I agree completely, and I think she’s a great kid. I also wish “there were millions more like her.” However, I can’t imagine standing on the beach waving goodbye to my young teenager as she sailed off into the open ocean, all alone. As you know much better than I, many an older and much more experienced sailor has perished in storms that don’t have to be that severe to sink a boat as small as hers.

    More power to her, but geez … wait a few years.

  4. Dan Miller |


    I think she’s a great kid. . . . but geez … wait a few years.

    How many years? Is there an age that necessarily brings relevant competence? I have known older, but not necessarily more experienced and avid, sailors who could not have done what she did, who should not have attempted it and whom I should have advised against it if asked.

    There are advantages (and disadvantages) to a suitably equipped small boat. Not a dinghy, of course, but a small boat with a solid hull, reliable equipment and well equipped for its intended purpose. With a small boat of that sort, the sails and all the rest of it are easier to handle because the boat is lighter and they are proportionately (generally to the cube root of the length of the waterline) smaller. There are usually fewer systems (refrigeration, auto pilot, water maker, etc.) to break and require repair. Is a Cessna 182 easier to fly manually, even in heavy instrument conditions, than a Boeing 747? I don’t know but suspect that the answer is yes.

    As to the disadvantages, the hull speed of a boat is proportionate to the length of the waterline. A forty-six footer can go faster and is generally much more comfortable than a twenty-six footer. A forty-six footer is also more difficult to single hand and, since they generally have deeper draft, can more easily run aground. I think Miss Dekker chose her boat well.

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