August 22, 2010 in Nation/World

Dutch teen sets sail in secrecy

Filipe Bento Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Laura Dekker, 14, waves to the media Aug. 4 in the Netherlands.
(Full-size photo)

PORTIMAO, Portugal – A 14-year-old Dutch sailor departed in secrecy from Gibraltar on Saturday on her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world – avoiding the media because, her manager said, she didn’t want the attention.

Laura Dekker was in good spirits as she started sailing her 38-foot ship Guppy from the British territory bordering the southwestern tip of Spain, on a trip expected to last a year or more, said her manager, Peter Klarenbeek.

The attempt has been criticized by Dutch child protection authorities, who questioned the wisdom of a child risking the world’s oceans alone. Dekker’s departure itself was kept a secret from international media, who descended on Portugal but failed to capture images of it.

“She said goodbye to her father and friends and she sailed away into the horizon,” said Holland’s MasMedia company, which has exclusive rights to film her voyage.

Dekker had been scheduled to depart from Portimao, Portugal, where she arrived from Holland last week before embarking on final sea trials. But Marijke Schaaphok, MasMedia’s director, said the girl ended up leaving from Gibraltar because Portugal only issues permits for sailing ocean vessels to people 18 or older.

This regulation does not apply on British territory, Schaaphok said. Dekker also “did not want to speak to the media” gathered in Portimao, Klarenbeek said.

The girl is now en route to Spain’s Canary Islands or Portugal’s Madeira Island, depending on the wind, Schaaphok said. Then she plans to head through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean, and on to Australia, the southern tip of India and through the Suez Canal en route to the Mediterranean.

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