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Laura Dekker Interview, Part 1

Laura Dekker Interview, Part 1

In the years between 2008 and 2010 the sailing world and beyond saw a wave of very young sailors embarking upon monstrous undertakings that would give pause to the most seasoned mariners. California sailor Zac Sunderland circled the globe alone in his Islander 36 becoming the first person under 18 to accomplish the journey. His sister Abby attempted to be the youngest unassisted non-stop but dismasted in the Indian Ocean. Months later, Aussie Jessica Watson became the holder of that honor and in August of 2009 British sailor Mike Perham would circle the globe and become the youngest solo round-the-world sailor. All of these young adventurers were between 16 and 17 and their actions stirred enormous controversy, but when in that same year 14-year old Laura Dekker from the Netherlands announced that she planned on sailing around the world alone in her 38’ Jeanneau ketch, Guppy, people lost their minds.

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VIDEO: Trailer for “Maidentrip,” documentary about Laura Dekker

laura dekker maidentripFor years here on the ASA blog we followed Laura Dekker’s amazing round-the-world sailing adventures. The Dutch teenager battled the legal system, contended with public opinion, and braved the seven seas on her own. Now filmmaker Jillian Schlesinger is telling the tale.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Laura’s story, here it is in a nutshell: Laura made her mind up at 13 to undertake a solo sailing voyage, and departed on her round-the-world journey in 2010 at the age of 14. This came after a long battle with Dutch authorities who did not want her to take the trip, and even tried to take custody of her. Rather than try to sail non-stop and go for speed, Laura stopped frequently over the next two years as she made her way around the globe, explaining that her purpose was to experience new places and cultures, not to set any sailing records.

She completed her circumnavigation safely in 2012 when she sailed into Simpson Bay at the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten.

This new documentary uses footage shot by Dekker, ranging from beautiful seascapes and personal reflection to thrilling life-and-death sailing adventure. Even in these brief two minutes you get a glimpse of Laura’s charisma, fortitude, and independent, willful mind. The film will be playing at film festivals across the US from January to April. Watch the trailer below, then see click here to see where you can catch it.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

Notable Numbers: Magellan’s 492nd, Minoru’s 8th, and Dekker’s 16th

On this day in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail on the first ever circumnavigation of Earth. Magellan sailed in the service of King Charles I of Spain, and was charged with finding a westward route to the “Spice Islands,” which are today a part of Indonesia. His ship completed the voyage, but Magellan did not. He was killed in a conflict with natives in the Philippines. Nevertheless, Magellan is one of the most famous seafarers in history. To get an idea of his influence, consider that Magellan actually named the Pacific Ocean.

Fast forward 492 years: A couple of modern sailors have followed in Magellan’s footsteps. They’re not going into the complete unknown, as he was, but nature and the sea remain as full of surprises as ever.
laura dekker
Today, September 20th, Laura Dekker turns 16. Dekker departed her native Holland at the ripe old age of 14, has crossed two oceans and now finds herself in Australia and on track for a successful solo circumnavigation. Unlike other teen sailors, such as Zac & Abby Sunderland, Dekker is not attempting a nonstop solo circumnavigation. Instead, she’s taking her time, enjoying stops in the Azores, St. Martin, the Galapagos, and other locales along the way. She expects to finish her trip around May 2012.

And at the other end of the spectrum, a few days ago accomplished Japanese sailor Minoru Saito completed his EIGHTH solo circumnavigation, this time sailing the “wrong way,” east to west. The kicker? Saito is 77 years old. He described this as his most difficult circumnavigation, and was beset by a near-Biblical string of difficulties, from severe damage to his boat at Cape Horn, to a hernia operation in Chile, to being hit by a car in Hawaii, to delays related to the 2011 Japanese tsunami. All told it took him 4 times as long as anticipated. He says he missed “cherry blossoms” more than anything else while at sea, and is already thinking about his next trip. He mentions Alaska and Greenland as destinations, which makes you wonder if he’s not contemplating taking on the Northwest Passage! I wouldn’t put anything past him now.

Sailing Alone Around the World

sailing onIn sailing, as in other sporting arenas, we love to marvel at the abilities of the true greats, even as we recognize that you don’t have to be on their level to have a great time. The ASA membership is composed of people at all different stages, from pure beginners to the saltiest of veteran sailors.

Many consider a solo circumnavigation to be the ultimate cruising feat. This is something most of us would never dream of attempting, for any number of reasons: Money, Time, Skill, or Sanity! However, this doesn’t stop us from admiring those who can and do accomplish the Holy Grail of sailing. I look with awe at seafarers such as Reid Stowe, who spent over 1,000 continuous days at sea without stopping to repair or re-provision, and the original cruiser, Joshua Slocum, author of the book from which this post takes it title.

At ASA we even have such legends in our midst – including Yoh Aoki, who owns an ASA affiliate in Osaka, Japan, and who at age 22 built a plywood ketch in his backyard and sailed it around the world. This boat, Ahodori 2, holds the Guinness World Record for smallest boat ever to sail around the world, and is currently on display at a museum in Japan. There is also the Sunderland family of Marina del Rey, who need no introduction.

There are THREE intrepid sailors currently attempting solo circumnavigations (that I know of), and they could not be more different from one another:
laura dekker
Laura Dekker, 15, aboard Guppy

Dutch teenager Dekker set out on her voyage on August 4, 2010, at the ripe old age of 14. She’s taking it easy, stopping in Spain, Portugal, the Canaries, and the Cape Verde Islands, visiting with friends and family. Most recently she did her first big ocean crossing to St. Maarten in the Caribbean. At the time of writing, she has turned 15 and is enjoying a 10-day spot as a guest deckhand aboard the tall ship Stad Amsterdam, giving her boat a brief rest.

Jeanne Socrates, 67, aboard Nereida
jeanne socrateshttp://www.svnereida.com/

This grandma doesn’t mess around. It is evident from her weblog that she has the grit and the know-how sail around the world, and that she doesn’t plan to dally. In fact, she’s already done it once, from March 2007 – June 2008. A few days ago she sustained damage to her boom and windscreen rounding Cape Horn, but from the upbeat tone of her journal it seems she remains optimistic about completing the voyage. She is currently in the Beagle Channel making repairs.

Minoru Saito, 77, aboard Shuten-dohji III
Captain Saito is clearly the dean of this group, having circumnavigated 7 times already and holding the record for oldest-ever solo circumnavigator. He is on his 8th trip, this time the “wrong way around,” west-to-east. He has nearly completed the voyage, which began in 2008 and has included numerous close-calls around stormy Cape Horn and the perilous coast of Chile. He’s wintering in Hawaii and only needs the final leg to Yokohama to finish.


I find these stories of great sailors equally intimidating and inspiring. Obviously, it’s unlikely that most of us will ever achieve what these people have on the water, but that’s okay. If we can attain our own goals, whether those goals are just daysailing in the local lake, bareboat chartering, or undertaking a massive ocean crossing, we will have done a great thing. Feel free to share your thoughts, and remember that we’re here to help you achieve your sailing dreams, whatever they may be.