Dutch 13-Year-Old Denied Shot at Record-Breaking Sail

Court blocks teen's attempt to be youngest person to sail solo around the globe.

ByMAEVA BAMBUCK
August 28, 2009, 10:55 AM

LONDON, Aug. 28, 2009 — -- A Dutch court has taken temporary custody of a 13-year-old girl to prevent her from going on a solo sailing trip around the world.

The court in Utrecht ruled that more research must be conducted to determine whether Laura Dekker is physically and mentally ready to set sail on her endeavor. If so, she could become the youngest ever to circumnavigate the globe.

"The court order is to continue the research into Laura's case for the next two months, until October 26th," Esther Kolver, of the Dutch Council for Child Protection, told ABC News. "For eight weeks, the court will share custody of Laura with her father."

The girl was thrust into the spotlight when she sailed to England by herself and was stopped from sailing back by the British port authority. According to the Guardian newspaper, police were called to a library in the port of Lowestoft on May 2 after being told she was in the country alone.

Dekker was placed in a foster home for a night after her father initially refused a request to come to Britain and escort his daughter home, the newspaper reported. The father told police his daughter was capable of sailing back alone, but eventually relented and agreed to fly to Britain to accompany Laura on the sail back to the Netherlands.

Then, Laura's father tried to take her out of school for two years for the solo journey. "The office for compulsory schooling reported that to child services," Richard Bakker, a spokesman for Dutch Council for Child Protection, told ABC News.

Finally, when Dekker tried to set sail on her world tour, the state moved quickly to stop her.

"Laura is a child and we know that psychologically the brain of a 13-year-old child is not matured; it is developing at this moment," Bakker said. "And what is standing in the way is this wish that Laura has, which we believe her father is at this point giving into too easily, to go sailing for two years."

Laura was born onboard a boat while her parents were on their own journey around the world. Laura lived in the boat until the age of four, and apparently has been sailing on her own since the age of six.

Dekker Wanted to Sail Around World Since Age 10

"I've had the idea since I was ten years old that I really wanted to sail around the world sometime, it just seems really fun to me," she told Dutch children program Het Jeugdjournaal. "I've sailed a lot at sea, and I've sailed a lot by myself."

Her lawyer told ABC News that he was satisfied with the court's decision to have Laura undergo a psychological evaluation. "An experienced psychologist will talk with Laura to see if she can face the life at sea, and the problems at sea, and if she is as good as she says," Peter de Lange told ABC News. "The court didn't say no today, it said it was a good enterprise. I am hopeful there will be a positive outcome."

If the judge approves her project, Laura Dekker would still have to be successful to break the record.

The current record holder, 17-year-old Michael Perham of England, had to seek assistance after his autopilot failed repeatedly, and made several stops due to changing winds and technical problems. And these are some of the lesser risks incurred.

Until the judge's decision, Laura will continue living at home, under the supervision of a state-appointed guardian. If she gets the green light, she could set sail as early as November, de Lange said.

Laura did not attend the court session this morning. She was sailing instead in an undisclosed location, de Lange said.

Christine Brouwer contributed to the reporting of this story.

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