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Court: Dekker too green to sail solo

10/30/2009

UTRECHT, Netherlands -- A Dutch court ruled Friday that
14-year-old Laura Dekker was still too inexperienced to be allowed
to set off on her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo
around the world.

Judges at Utrecht District Court placed Laura under the
guardianship of child protection authorities until next July to
ensure that she cannot set off on her dream voyage.

The ruling means Laura can continue living with her father, but her parents
must consult about all major decisions
in her life.

Laura and her parents were not in court Friday, but family
spokeswoman Mariska Woertman said the teenager was "disappointed
that the court does not have faith in her to leave now."

However, Woertman said Laura was confident she can be ready to
sail soon after next July and still set the record as the youngest
sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

The Utrecht court first blocked her departure in August out of
concern for her safety. The decision sparked a worldwide debate on
how much authorities and parents should limit children's freedom to
undertake risky adventures.

Laura's parents, both veteran sailors, are separated. Laura's
father supported the attempt, but her mother said in a newspaper
interview in September she thought Laura was too young.

Presiding judge M. Oostendorp said Laura's mother has given her
blessing "so long as she has assurances about the safety measures.
At the moment, as far as she is concerned, they are insufficient."

Judges said they were confident that Laura was emotionally ready
for the trip, but questioned the safety precautions and her ability
to continue her schooling while at sea. They said, however, her
sailing skills were not in question.

A psychological analysis submitted to the court said Laura's
planned trip would not impair her social or emotional development.

"The good news today is that we have established Laura is
capable of making this voyage," her lawyer, Peter de Lange, said.

Laura told the three-judge panel at a closed hearing Monday that
she was equipping her 26-foot yacht Guppy with extra
security and communications equipment and learning to use it.

"[The plans are still] too unclear, not concrete enough and too
uncertain" to guarantee her safety, Oostendorp said.

Laura also told the court that she planned to wait at least
until next May, after school ends, to embark on the voyage and will
be guided by an experienced sailor in a separate boat. She also
promised to take a sailor's first-aid course and practice sleep
management techniques.

De Lange criticized the judges for questioning Laura's
single-handed sailing experience -- which is limited to trips on
Dutch rivers, close to the coast and a single solo voyage to
England and back.

"They say she has not got much experience of solo
round-the-world sailing. That is a bit weak," he said. "How do you get experience? By doing it."

In August, 17-year-old British sailor Mike Perham became the
youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Earlier this month, 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson also set off on a
single-handed, round-the-world trip.

De Lange said Laura still can break the record if she sets off
next year.

"But the record is not her primary goal," he added. "Laura
just wants to sail."