Court: Dekker too green to sail solo

Updated: October 30, 2009, 11:47 AM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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