MIDDELBURG, Netherlands – The new cushions, sunshade, and bright red sail are in place. And now 14-year-old Laura Dekker has the go-ahead she needs.
A Dutch court ruled Tuesday the girl who was born on a yacht in the South Pacific is ready to embark on her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world – meaning she could set sail in two weeks in a ketch named Guppy.
“I was so happy I almost jumped into the water,” the teen gushed, after hearing the court’s decision.
She then hopped onto her red-hulled, twin-mast yacht with a cartoon fish painted on the side and did a celebratory circle for the assembled media in the still waters of the harbor where she lives with her father on a boat.
The past year of legal wrangling and criticism of Laura and her family have been far from such clear sailing – and she faces more stormy waters when she sets off on her odyssey in her 38-foot yacht. “I’m not really afraid, everything is really prepared on my boat,” the young Dutch sailor said of the prospect of encountering everything from towering waves to Somali pirates.
Answering questions in Dutch and English, only rarely did Laura’s youthful exuberance break through at a brief news conference – like when she looked back on the stress of the last year.
“Now it’s all over and, yeah, it’s really cool,” she said.
The risks the teen faces ignited a worldwide debate on how far parents should go in supporting or encouraging their children’s improbable dreams.
When Dutch child protection agencies got wind last year of the then 13-year-old’s plan they immediately went to court and had Laura placed under a guardianship order that meant she could not set sail.
After reviewing her plans, judges ruled Laura was underprepared for such a voyage.
Laura and her father worked to address a list of shortcomings – she organized remote schooling and got a bigger, sturdier yacht and fitted it with safety and navigation equipment. She took first aid courses, learning to suture her own wounds, put out onboard fires and cope with sleep deprivation.
On Tuesday, Middelburg Family Court said there was no reason to extend the guardianship another year.
Presiding Judge S. Kuypers said the responsibility for Laura now “lies with her parents.”
Dick Dekker brushed off criticism that he was pushing his daughter on the voyage.
“Nonsense. It was Laura’s plan from the very beginning,” he said. “I just support her in it.”