Here is the second installment of our interview with the youngest sailor to sail around the world alone, Laura Dekker. In this part Laura speaks of her undying love for sailing, a fame that won’t go away and a future that involves educating young people, informed by this incredible experience…
ASA: What about the resourcefulness that you had to have to make that kind of a journey. Is that something that still serves you today?
Dekker: I think it’s something that I kind of had anyway. As a kid I was always trying to fix everything and find solutions. But of course it greatly improved during the trip. Things broke and I had to fix things. I just had to deal with certain situations that otherwise I probably wouldn’t want to deal with at all. And that’s another really cool thing about sailing – it just throws you into all of these situations that you would never think of, but you need to deal with it. It’s really quite cool – I definitely felt at certain times, that I can’t do this or I don’t know the solution right now. But then I would just sit down and think about it and eventually I would manage and it’s so rewarding to just be out there in the middle of the ocean and stuff breaks and you’re able to fix it. It’s a really good feeling. It’s purely surviving, really. Even though it’s not easy. Life at sea is definitely not easy but it’s very simple. Just keep yourself alive, keep the boat afloat and head in kind of the right direction. These are the three big things that you need to focus on. I could handle those things.
ASA: Is there is there any particular experience that sticks with you or do you see it more from an overall perspective –probably both huh?
Dekker: I think it’s the overall thing but there were lots of [personal victories] Along the way too. For instance, often you’ve got a 50/50 percent chance of getting in at night. It was quite scary for me to come in at night. In the beginning, especially in the islands where there’s big reefs around and ships, I would choose to stay out at sea and wait for daylight, but as the trip progressed I would try to push myself further and further and then it became really cool to come in at night.
ASA: Do you still see sailing the same way you did before or during the trip or has that changed or shifted?
Dekker: No, actually it hasn’t changed at all. I still love it exactly for the same reason and in the same way.
ASA: Some of your contemporaries don’t seem to have the same passion for sailing as they once did but you do – any speculations as to why?
Dekker: I think it might have something to do with going for a record and pushing yourself in that way. They were doing that and I wasn’t doing that. For me it wasn’t about a record. I just wanted to see the world and I wanted to sail. I had this love of sailing very deep within me before even thinking about any idea of a record. It was never my point. During the trip I got to love sailing even more. Instead of it turning me away from sailing, it bound me to it forever.
ASA: So that of course begs the question would you go out again?
Dekker: Yeah, absolutely – I wouldn’t do the same thing again. But I’m still sailing as much as I can and I’d love to go cruising again.
ASA: Would you do something like a mini Transat or something like that?
Dekker: [muffled chuckle] Ummm.
ASA: Uh oh!
Dekker: [Smiling] Never say never.
ASA: Are we going to make news right now?
Dekker: No I’m not planning on it. I sailed a mini in Holland last year and it was really really fun.
ASA: They’re fun downwind.
Dekker: Yeah, it was awesome. Actually I’m not a fan of big races in general just because for me sailing is very pure. It’s just, you know, nature, as it was over 100,000 years ago. It’s the waves and the wind and the sea – it hasn’t changed in forever. It’s so pure and so powerful and to me it’s just an amazing gift that we can be out there and use these really strong elements to go somewhere where we want to go.
ASA: Did Guppy have to be modified quite a bit your journey?
Dekker: No we didn’t really modify much. We put heavier rigging on it and put a deeper rudder on it but otherwise it was mostly standard.
ASA: Did anything severely break along the way?
Dekker: Eh you know, it’s a boat. Things break. Nothing I couldn’t fix. Sometimes I had to wait until I was back to land to fix it properly. But nothing that left me just floating around. I had my sails rip, my steering wheel fall off and some leaking, but nothing really bad.
ASA: What about what about the whole fame element Laura, is that something that has been a burden more than pleasure or the other way around?
Dekker: It’s probably the thing I struggle with most. I always have. The whole purpose for me to go sailing was I wanted to be alone and I just wanted to be out there on the ocean on my own and then suddenly it became this world wide thing that I didn’t see coming. It kind of went against everything that I wanted at that stage. So, to me it felt like a total intrusion into my life. Also in the beginning of course, it was all bad stuff, which actually made it easier to fight it off. Now it’s usually well meaning. So it’s hard, I realize, on the one hand, that it gives me a lot of opportunity but it also puts a lot of pressure on you. A lot of people looking at what you’re doing. And I always need to remind myself to just do what I do and really not care what people say. So I kind of feel a pressure to be a good example but also try do what I want to do. I often wish that it wasn’t there. I thought after the trip it would disappear, that people would forget me quickly but somehow they didn’t.
ASA: After following you on the trip and seeing your documentary [Maiden Trip] it seems to me you’re an inspiration for people. Are you comfortable with that role?
Dekker: It is cool to be able to inspire people. In the beginning I hated doing presentations and talks and all that. And I still don’t do a lot of them because it’s a lot of pressure for me and I find them hard to do, but it’s amazing to do a talk, then after have a kid or a teenager come up and say, “whoa that was really inspiring.” And then tell me that they are going to go and work on a dream that they have. That’s really cool and makes the whole thing worth it.
ASA: What are you doing now? I understand you’re starting a school at sea in New Zealand?
Dekker: Yeah – the idea is to get a big boat, like 24 meters, that can accommodate up to 12-students, plus teachers and crew and do longer trips. While sailing we’ll have school on the boat so the kids will be able to continue their normal schooling. I believe theoretical learning needs to be supported by practical learning and a lot school systems today use just theoretical learning. It’s a very ineffectual way of learning I believe. Once they’re done with school they have all this knowledge that comes out of books but have no clue as to how to survive in the world. So I just think it’s really ineffective. So I want to somehow have a school that combines those two things. It’s a long project. Good things take time. So we’re working steadily to get there.
ASA: Let’s finish with an easy one: Of all these places that you’ve been, is there a sailing location that stands out head and shoulders above the rest?
Dekker: I love French Polynesia for sailing. I love people there I really like the islands. It’s so beautiful to sail there and the people are really so friendly and so hospitable. They’re so close to living with nature, which is so different. In western culture everything is materialistic – we need to have this and we need to have that but there it’s completely the opposite way and I really love that but to live, I really like New Zealand.