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August 25, 2009 permalink
Dutch child protectors are seeking custody of thirteen-year-old Laura Dekker, who wants to sail around the world solo starting at age fourteen, making her the youngest person to do so. If she goes, she will be embarking with eight years sailing experience. Child protectors claim she is too young for such a danger and (in other news reports) suggest her social development will be impaired by the trip. A Dutch judge is contemplating whether to revoke parental custody and so end the expedition. What would the judge do with his teenaged countryman Anne Frank? Or the little Dutch boy who saved his country by holding his finger in the dike?
Court asked to block Dutch girl, 13, from sailing alone around the world
Agence France-Presse, August 25, 2009
THE HAGUE — Dutch child protection agents urged a court Monday to stop a 13-year-old girl from pursuing her dream of becoming the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo.
Social workers want to strip Laura Dekkers’ parents, who support their daughters plans, of parental rights and have her declared a ward of the court to stop the girl from setting sail.
"It means that her parents will temporarily lose the right to make any decisions concerning their child," court spokesman Paul van Daalen told AFP.
Laura and her father Dick Dekker were present for the hearing behind closed doors, he said.
A children’s judge in Utrecht in the central Netherlands was expected to rule this week, the spokesman said.
Born on a yacht off the New Zealand coast during a seven-year world trip by her parents, according to Dutch press, Laura plans to become the youngest ever sailor to navigate around the world in her 8.3-metre-long Hurley 800 named Guppy, financed by sponsors.
The slender, blonde girl who reportedly lives with her father on a yacht in the central Netherlands, hopes to achieve this feat in two years and continue her schooling through Internet correspondence.
"Since I was 10 years old, I’ve known that I would like to sail around the world," she has told Dutch television. "I want simply to learn about the world and to live freely."
Her father approached authorities in July for an exemption for Laura from obligatory schooling. The request was refused.
In a recent written report to parliament, education deputy minister Marja van Bijsterveldt-Vliegenthart said "a solo voyage around the world would not be in the best interests of the child".
Newspapers report that Laura got her first yacht at the age of six and spent the summer of her 11th year sailing for seven weeks on her own.
"We realize that it is a dangerous undertaking," Dick Dekker has told the Gelderlander local newspaper.
"But a court which knows nothing about Laura will decide. We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control."
Source: Ottawa Citizen
Addendum: A Dutch court has ended Laura's plans.
Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 17:31 UK
Dreams scuppered for Dutch sailor girl
By Rob Kievit, Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Laura Dekker says she is more of a doer than a dreamer, but with her plans to become the youngest ever person to solo circumnavigate the globe now in tatters, she will be left to ponder what might have been.
With the Dutch child protection agencies declaring her trip too dangerous, she and her 8m (26ft) yacht Guppy will be confined to dock.
It is a devastating blow for the teenager who lives to sail.
"My parents have sailed around the world, they know what can happen and that it's not always fun, but because I want to do it so much they agreed and supported me," Miss Dekker told Dutch television earlier this week.
"They've taken good care of me for 13 years, so I don't know why people suddenly think they are not doing a good job."
She was not at the hearing that torpedoed her hopes on Friday. Advised to stay away as the constant media pressure was taking its toll, she spent the day sailing instead.
But it is not as if she needed to prove her commitment to the sport.
Miss Dekker was born on a boat - in New Zealand - and when she was just 6 years old, she had already mastered control over her single-handed Optimist dinghy and was criss-crossing lakes back in the Netherlands.
Aged 10, she moved up to a 7m boat and was honing her skills in the waters of Friesland. It was here that she encountered her first problems with the outside world, with lock-operators not always willing to allow passage to such a young girl in charge of a boat on her own.
Unperturbed and supported by her family, she spent the following summer sailing in and around the islands on the Wadden Sea and shortly after she revealed her big dream to take to the high seas and become the youngest person ever to go around the world.
Supportive but sceptical, her father told the aspiring record-breaker that she would have to prove herself first.
Intensive lessons on navigation and safety followed and then her father, Dick Dekker, dropped the news that Miss Dekker would have to sail to England and back on her own first to show him what she was capable of.
"So long on the open sea with wind, rain and waves - that will soon end any ideas of sailing the world," recalls Dick on his daughter's website.
Signs of trouble
Of course the opposite proved true and the compulsion to take on the biggest sailing challenge of all was stronger than ever, despite the fact that Miss Dekker was only 13.
But the trip to England was an omen in another sense - once Miss Dekker arrived in the UK, she was detained by the port authorities and taken into care.
The local authorities judged it too dangerous for a 13-year-old to be at sea alone and they sought to scupper the return leg. They telephoned Mr Dekker and asked him to accompany his daughter on the trip home.
When Mr Dekker refused, the English authorities in Lowestoft placed Miss Dekker in a children's home.
Miss Dekker wrote about this obliquely on her website too. "In England I met a couple who run a children's home," she wrote. "They were very kind and showed me many nice spots in England."
Ultimately, Mr Dekker travelled to the UK to collect his daughter.
But when he allowed Miss Dekker to sail back on her own anyway, the British police contacted their Dutch colleagues, who alerted the social services' youth care bureau.
And with the family then firmly on the radar of social services in the Netherlands, the next step was Friday's ban by the child protection board.
Miss Dekker has indicated she may emigrate to New Zealand and set off from there. Having been born there, she has a New Zealand passport.
Reportedly there are no legal obstacles there to minors embarking on lengthy sea journeys, although children in New Zealand, too, are required to attend school.
But emigration does not seem to offer a way out. Ms Dekker could expect to be treated by New Zealand's child protection bodies in the same the way as she was treated in the Netherlands, New Zealand authorities were quoted as saying in Dutch daily newspaper de Volkskrant on Friday.
The deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Child, Youth and Family agency, Ray Smith, said he did not think it was sensible for a 13-year-old to sail solo around the world.
"I think most people would share that view," he told the New Zealand Herald.
For the time being, then, it looks as though all avenues have been exhausted and Miss Dekker will have to join her 13-year-old Dutch counterparts returning to school after the summer break.
Addendum: Laura is in permanent state wardship until next summer.
Dutch court blocks 14-year-old's solo sailing record attempt
Laura Dekker put under guardianship of authorities until July, but she could still set record for youngest solo circumnavigation
A Dutch court today barred a 14-year-old girl from attempting a world record for sailing solo around the world, placing her under the guardianship of child protection authorities until July.
The decision by judges at Utrecht district court means Laura Dekker, who was first blocked from attempting the trip in August, will remain with her father but her parents will have to check with child protection officials about any major decisions in her life.
Mariska Woertman, a spokeswoman for the family, who were not in court, said the teenager was "disappointed that the court does not have faith in her to leave now." Woertman said the way was now open for Dekker to begin the voyage next summer, meaning she could still set the record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe alone.
The title is currently held by Mike Perham, a 17-year-old Briton, who completed the trip in August. The Utrecht court's initial decision against Dekker shortly after that sparked a debate in the Netherlands about whether officials should be allowed to circumscribe such parentally approved adventures.
Dekker's parents – both of whom are experienced sailors – are separated. While her father is a keen advocate of the trip, her mother has expressed concern given Dekker's age. The court said today that the mother agreed to the voyage "so long as she has assurances about the safety measures. At the moment, as far as she is concerned, they are insufficient."
The court said that while Dekker's sailing skills were adequate and a psychological report concluded that the voyage would not harm her social or emotional development, there were questions about safety and her ability to continue her schooling while at sea.
During a private court session this week, Dekker said she planned to delay the trip at least until May and would be guided by an experienced sailor in a separate boat.
"The good news … is that we have established Laura is capable of making this voyage," said her lawyer, Peter de Lange. He said Dekker could still set the record despite the enforced delay, "but the record is not her primary goal. Laura just wants to sail."
A fortnight ago, a 16-year-old Australian girl, Jessica Watson, sailed out of Sydney harbour on a planned solo global circumnavigation.
Source: Guardian (UK)
Addendum: Laura was arrested and forcibly returned to the Netherlands after an escape.
The girl with the shattered dream: runaway Laura brought back home
December 22, 2009 - 8:52AM
A 14-year-old Dutch girl barred from sailing around the world solo has returned under police escort from the Caribbean island where she was found after running away from home, police said.
Police now reportedly planned to quiz Laura Dekker to find out if she had an adult accomplice to travel to the island of St Maarten, in the Netherlands Antilles.
A family spokeswoman believed the pressure of a court battle over her solo sailing quest had gotten to the teen. In October, a court prohibited Dekker from setting off on an around-the-world solo yacht trip for at least eight months.
"We think we know the reason," Joost Lanshage of Bureau Youth Care told the Daily Mail.
"She had a dream and it fell apart - that round-the-world trip. In the end she collapsed under the weight of the attention that generated and the dream being shattered. She is looking for some order."
Dekker flew back from St Maarten accompanied by a policeman and was expected in Amsterdam today, police said.
She was spotted on the island on Sunday by a resident who had followed media coverage of her disappearance from her home near the central Dutch city of Utrecht.
On her arrival in Amsterdam, Dekker would be questioned by police and a representative of the child protection services, said the police spokesman for Utrecht, Bernhard Jens. Dutch police said it was not possible for minor to fly overseas unaccompanied.
"We are going to ask her how she went over there," he said. "The child protection services will then decide if she can go home or not."
St. Maarten police spokesman Johan Janchi Leonard said Dekker arrived on the island on 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. There were unconfirmed reports she had withdrawn 3500 euros ($5620) from her bank account.
But the Utrecht children's court prohibited her from setting off on her solo quest, citing safety concerns. It also placed the teenager - whose father Dick Dekker supported her ambitions, but whose mother expressed doubts - under the protection of child care officers until July 1 next year.
Her parents have since divorced and Dekker lives with her father. Instead of calling authorities when she went missing, her father called her mother who in turn informed police on Friday.
A 17-year-old Briton, Mike Perham, in August became the youngest person to complete a solo voyage around the world, albeit with assistance. He spent 156 days at sea.
Agencies and Arjun Ramachandran
Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Addendum: A court extended Laura's supervision after a rival young circumnavigator had to be rescued in the Indian Ocean.
Court will keep supervising Dutch sailor, 14
AMSTERDAM — A 14-year-old Dutch girl who wants to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe will remain under state supervision for another month, a court ruled Thursday, days after a California teenager was rescued during a similar attempt.
The decision by the court in the southern Dutch city of Middelburg meant another frustrating delay for Laura Dekker, who has gone into intense training to persuade the authorities she is capable of undertaking the risky venture.
Dekker was made a ward of the state last year after her plan to set sail aboard her small yacht raised concerns over her physical ability and her social development if she is isolated and out of school for months. She was then 13.
Child welfare authorities asked the court for a two-month extension of Dekker's guardianship.
The dangers she would face were highlighted this week when a 16-year-old California girl, Abby Sunderland, ran into trouble on a solo attempt when powerful waves snapped her mast in the Indian Ocean, prompting a tense 20-hour rescue mission.
Sunderland was rescued two days after the alarm was raised, in a land and sea operation that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of it borne by the Australian military who spotted her thousands of miles from the nearest land.
At a hearing Monday, Dekker's lawyer Peter de Lange argued that she has been working to meet 14 conditions imposed by the court nine months ago.
She has obtained a first aid diploma, practiced functioning with a lack of sleep, and arranged to follow schoolwork via Internet, he said.
Last weekend she made a solo trip to England and back — 22 hours each way — to show her command of her small yacht and its seaworthiness.
Dekker's father, with whom she lives, has approved of her attempt, while her mother has objected. The couple are separated.
Last December Dekker ran away from home and traveled alone to the Caribbean. Upset by court-imposed rules and with her grades slipping, she fled with about $5,000 to the Dutch territory of St. Maarten using her New Zealand passport. She was discovered and flew home several days later.
Under Dutch law, Dekker is considered a minor until she is 18 years old.
Last year's ruling to put her under the guardianship of state authorities meant she could live at home but her parents must consult child protection authorities about all major decisions in her life.
The unofficial record as the youngest round-the-world sailor belongs to 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson, who completed her voyage in May.
Source: The Associated Press, hosted by Google
Addendum: As of July 27, 2010, Laura is free to commence her round-the-world trip. The website mentioned in the article is LauraDekker.nl de Jongste solozeiler ter wereld!
Who is Laura Dekker?
Laura Dekker, the Dutch girl who won a 10-month legal battle on Tuesday in her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, was born on a similar sea voyage 14 years ago.
"Sailing is my life," the bubbly, blonde teenager writes on her website, sprinkled with photos of her yacht, sailing instruments and images of the sea.
"As soon as I get on my boat, something inside me changes. Then I really feel what living is."
A Dutch court on Tuesday denied a request by child protection authorities to place her under their supervision for a further year until August 2011 to stop her imminent departure.
A clearly elated Dekker later addressed journalists from around the world with remarkable ease at the harbour of Den Osse, in the southern Netherlands, where she lives on a boat with her father, Dick, and dog, Spot.
"I simply want to see the world, different cultures, and to acquire life experience," the slender, vivacious girl said.
"I like to travel. I don't like staying in one place for too long."
Dekker was born in New Zealand during the third of a seven-year, around-the-world sea journey and spent the first four years of her life at sea with her parents.
"I was four when I first stood at the helm on my own," she writes.
She set sail on her first, six-week solo holiday to the northern Dutch province of Friesland at the age of 11.
Her boat, an 11.5 metre-long (about 38 feet) jeaneau gin fizz ketch, is named Guppy.
"This boat is my second home. Guppy means everything to me," Dekker says on her website.
She describes herself as a sailor "first of all", and says that other people perceive her as stubborn.
"I follow my own head. And if I'm determined to do something, then I'll make sure that I make it happen."
In tenacious style, Dekker fought the state's attempts to kill her dream, addressing the courts' concerns one by one such as learning first aid and sleep management techniques.
She plans to continue her formal education via the Internet while at sea.
Shortly after the authorities thwarted her initial departure last year, the headstrong youngster ran away to the Dutch Caribbean island territory of Sint Maarten (St. Martin) in December. Police had to escort her back home.
She says she understands people's concern about her age, "but I would like to show other young people what you can achieve if you really have a dream".
Dekker describes her hobbies as windsurfing and snowboarding. She does not watch much television, and when she does it would be a film "involving water".
"When I'm not surfing or sailing, I am to be found at the harbour working on my boat," she says.
She is an avid sailing magazine reader, and "I like Donald Duck".
Dekker says she has found the media attention in recent months hard to understand.
"I couldn't believe that everybody is interested in me," she writes.
"I'm just a person with a dream."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald