In August 2009, a thirteen year old girl, Laura Dekker, announced her plan for a two-year solo ocean sailing voyage around the globe to begin the following year. Solo sailing voyages around the world had been done before. However, it was Laura’s goal to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world.
Laura achieved her goal. Her accomplishment is documented in the film Maidentrip (2013), mostly filmed and narrated by Laura during her voyage.
Laura’s story has ideological significance in the human quest for freedom. It illustrates what can be achieved by a very young person who is born free and has lived free of repression by parental or state authority.
Laura’s father is Dutch and her mother is German. Laura was born on September 20, 1995 in the seaside town of Whangarei, New Zealand during a seven-year sailing voyage by her parents. Laura has Dutch, German, and New Zealand citizenship. Laura has a younger sister also born on that extended sailing trip.
Laura lived the first five years of her life at sea. Her parents returned to Holland after they finished their years of sailing. Laura was six and living in Holland when she acquired her first boat, a small sailing dinghy 7’ long intended for use by children. Laura learned to sail it by herself.
In 2002 when Laura was seven her parents divorced. After that she lived with her father and saw her mother occasionally. Laura’s sister went to live with their mother.
At age ten Laura acquired a 23’ long Hurley 700 sailboat. She named it Guppy (after the tiny tropical fish). She used this boat for solo sailing during her summer vacations from school; her trips included sailing the sea just off the coast of Holland, and the North Sea, between Holland and England.
In May 2009, at age 13, Laura made a solo crossing of the North Sea from the Netherlands to England, where local authorities requested that her father come to accompany her on her return voyage.
In August 2009, when she was not quite fourteen years old, Laura announced her plan for a two-year solo sailing voyage around the globe. By then Laura had acquired a seagoing 38 ft. ketch (two-masted sailboat) that she also named Guppy. It was badly in need of repairs and refurbishing which Laura and her father did.
The boat was equipped for long-distance sailing. The on-board equipment includes an Iridium tracking system. Iridium is an American company that operates a system of 66 active satellites used for worldwide voice and data communication from hand-held satellite phones and other transceiver units. The Iridium network is unique in that it covers the whole Earth, including poles, oceans and airways. From her boat Laura could communicate worldwide via Iridium by radio and mobile phone and a supporting team in Holland could monitor the course of Laura’s voyage.
Laura carried on her boat a sextant and charts of the oceans, tools for celestial navigation in the way that sailors did before the advent of satellites and GPS navigation. She learned to use sextant and charts because she wanted to be able to determine her location in case her computer crashed. Note: The United States Navy re-instituted instruction in celestial navigation with sextant and chart as a backup to GPS navigation in case of computer hacking by cyberattacks that disable GPS navigation. 1
The local authorities at Laura’s place of residence in Holland intervened, opposing Laura’s planned trip on the grounds it was child endangerment, even though both parents supported Laura’s plans. Laura later commented about the Dutch authorities that “they thought it was dangerous. Well, everywhere is dangerous. They don’t sail and they don’t know what boats are, and they are scared of them.”
During the film Laura says she is glad she left Holland for the voyage, because in Holland people only want to make money, get married, buy a house, have kids, then die. She says that life would be too boring for her. Once the voyage is well under way Laura says, my life starts with this trip.
The case received widespread international attention concerning the degree that a government might intervene when a minor engages in risky behavior that is supported by the parents. After half a year of legal dispute with the authorities, a Dutch court decided that the decision should be left with Laura’s parents provided she was not permitted to depart until her 15th birthday. A month before Laura’s 15th birthday she set sail from the Netherlands. The first leg of her trip was sailing 1,500 miles (2,400 km) to a stop at Gibraltar, then on 800 miles (1,300 km) to her next stop at the Canary Islands off the coast of northwest Africa. Next Laura sailed 2,000 miles (3,200 km) west across the Atlantic Ocean to St. Maarten, an island of the Netherlands Antilles in the northeastern Caribbean Sea.
From St. Maarten Laura headed further west towards the Panama Canal. On approaching the Panama Canal Laura says this is where I can turn around and go back to Holland; if I continue on I will be committed to the whole trip around the world. She goes forward.
After her transit of the Panama Canal, Laura sailed through the equator south to the Galapagos Islands near the Equator, and from there west to Tahiti, and then to Darwin, the northernmost city in Australia. From Darwin, Australia Laura sailed 6,000 miles non-stop across the Indian Ocean to South Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town, South Africa. From Cape Town Laura sailed northwest through the South Atlantic Ocean, crossing the equator northbound to the Caribbean Sea where she completes her trip at St. Maarten.
Although Maidentrip is very professionally done, most of the film consists of motion picture footage taken by Laura of herself on the boat and of the seas through which she sailed, including some photos taken during stormy conditions as well as some scenes in her stops along the way. In Dutch and English (with subtitles in English for both spoken languages) Laura narrates her experiences shown in the film.
Laura explains that her goal was not just to achieve the youngest solo circumnavigation of the globe, but to enjoy some of the landfalls along the way. So she stopped and spent time on land at various ports of call. The film includes footage of Laura exploring in the Canary Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, and other beautiful places on her trip.
In Tahiti, French Polynesia, French customs asked the day and hour of her departure. Laura replied to a skeptical customs official that she travels by sailboat and will depart when the wind is favorable.
The entire round trip from St. Maarten and return took 519 days. During that time Laura sailed 27,000 nautical miles (31,000 statute miles and 50,000 km) through both hemispheres and across the world’s three major oceans, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian oceans.
While visiting Darwin, Australia Laura is shown buying a New Zealand national flag to fly on her boat. She comments that she will make New Zealand her home and not return to live in Holland because, other than the Dutch language, she has nothing in common with the people of Holland.
Maidentrip is available from Netflix. CTLR readers should consider this post an endorsement of the film as well worth seeing for both entertainment and inspiration. To view images of Laura Dekker, go to http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=laura+dekker+images&qpvt=laura+dekker+images+&FORM=IGRE
After completing her circumnavigation of the globe at St. Maarten, 519 days after she started, Laura continued on, this time with a friend named Bruno, to a second transit of the Panama Canal and from there another 8,000 miles to her chosen home in New Zealand.
Laura now lives on her boat in New Zealand. She is studying for a captain’s license. She has traveled to Europe where she has been interviewed on television. In 2014 flew from Tahiti to New York with a friend named Daniel, to take an automobile tour of America. [Note: Laura and Daniel married in May 2015, four months before Laura’s 20th birthday. http://blog.jetsettingmagazine.com/news/laura-dekker-married ]
Laura has established an attractive blog where she reports on her travels in English and Dutch. The English language blog pages appear at http://www.lauradekker.nl/English/Home.html
- See “In the era of GPS, Naval Academy revives Celestial Navigation,” by Tim Prudente, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-celestial-navigation-20151025-story.html ↩