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Overcoming choppy waters in society and at sea
Venturing into a new world
Laura Dekker

A baby girl is born on a boat while her parents are sailing around the world. It sounds like the start of a novel or a film, but this is basically a true story.
It is only natural then that Laura would later take on the challenge of becoming the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world. It isn’t that she was born to be an adventure seeker, but rather was thrust into a world of adventure from the moment of her birth. Ocean adventurer Laura Dekker: A natural sailor.

On boats ever since she was born

Laura being interviewed during her first visit to Tokyo to attend the Faust A.G. Award 2012 ceremony. The upper photo was taken at the Roppongi Hills Sky Deck against the backdrop of the Tokyo skyline.
The cute 17-year-old poses playfully at the Roppongi Hills viewing deck. The Angry Birds ski cap was a gift from friends she made on her trip around the world.
Walking through Tsukiji fish market. In her free time, she wandered around Marunouchi, Roppongi, Harajuku, and Shibuya.
Receiving the Faust Challenger of the Year, and making a speech to the media at the awards ceremony.

When you talk to people who seek adventure, it's usual to begin with the obvious question. Namely, what triggered this love of adventure? But in Laura's case, it's probably a foolish question. Indeed, a smiling Laura explained: "It's like my life at the moment is the way it was always meant to be."

Her father, a boat builder, had dreamed of sailing around the world. Laura was born while he was realizing this dream. "I was born in New Zealand, while my parents were sailing around the world. In fact, I was actually born in a hospital near the harbor, but it was almost like I was born on the boat."
The sea has been a familiar presence to Laura ever since she can remember indeed from the moment she came into this world. With her father's help, she took the rudder for the first time at the age of four. The first time she ever steered a boat on her own in any meaningful sense was to come a bit later, but even so she was only six years old. In all honesty though, Laura herself doesn't care that much about when she took the helm for the first time. "It's just that whenever I'm asked when I started sailing, I can only say that it was from the moment I was born."

In fact, she's spent most of her life so far on boats. After her parents' seven-year-long voyage came to an end, Laura returned to her father's homeland of the Netherlands at the age of four, and lived in an ordinary house for merely a year. Feeling ill at ease in that land-bound dwelling, she soon returned to a life on the water. "When I live on a boat and want to go somewhere, I can just take off and move my home with me; but when you live on land you have to think about what you need to do, and make preparations to travel. First of all, you can't move an ordinary home." For a natural sailor like Laura, a "home you can move" is the most comfortable form of dwelling. "I sleep better on a boat, and rarely get seasick," she explains, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

In the Netherlands, she even commuted to school from the boat where she lived. Of course, it was a constant reminder that her life was quite different from that of her school friends, but from Laura's perspective " it so happened that my house was built on the water."

"Social norms" become first obstacle to round-the-world trip

When what she felt was completely normal didn't conform to social norms, she was thrust into a situation where she was prevented from doing what seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Laura had thought it was nothing out of the ordinary. She had always looked at pictures of her parents' trip around the world, and also remembered her own experiences when she was small. After she began attending school in the Netherlands, she started reading lots of different books, and developed a deeper interest in the world. "I want to go around the world too," she started thinking from the time she was eight years old. However major problems arose when it at last seemed possible for her to realize this dream.

This happened in 2009, when 13-year-old Laura announced her decision to sail a yacht around the world. There was a commotion when the Child Welfare Office in the Netherlands determined she was "too young, and lacked sufficient experience of sailing," and a family court prohibited her from sailing.

"Honestly, I couldn't really understand what was going on myself, and felt something weird was happening. A lot of untrue things were being reported, and when the trial began all sorts of people started saying all sorts of things. Even I started to get confused about what was real... Anyway, it was a mess."

Sailing for Laura was just an ordinary activity, so why were others making so much fuss? From her perspective, it was hard to take in all at once. "At the time it was certainly confusing, but now I can see that most people don't live the way I do. It doesn't mean I didn't understand the opposition back then. But for me, sailing was a normal thing and nothing out of the ordinary. I just wanted to go sailing, that's all."

In the end, the family court made its ruling ten months later, and finally gave permission for her to sail, provided, among other things, changes to the yacht and its facilities were made, and subject to receiving mandatory schooling by correspondence. "I didn't think I needed so much equipment, and felt they were imposing all these conditions to stop me from sailing. But of course I was happy they decided I could go."

She had finally won the right to sail. The round-the-world voyage Laura wanted so much was starting to become a reality.

Laura and the other award winners at the awards ceremony. From left: Mr. Ukyo Katayama (presenter); Alpine climbers Mr. Kazuya Hiraide and Ms. Kei Taniguchi; Laura; Adventurer Mr. Shinji Kazama; Mountaineer Ms. Junko Tabei; Soccer pro Mr. Ken Tokura of Vissel Kobe; and Awards promoter Mr. Kazutomo Robert Hori, CEO of Cybird Holdings. Pictures from the award ceremony can be found at the following link: http://www.faust-ag.jp/quest/quest027/

To go sailing on her own to experience our planet and the natural world

Laura began her journey on August 21, 2010, in her 12.3 m yacht "Guppy". She set sail from Gibraltar on the Iberian Peninsula towards the Caribbean island of St. Martin, the official launching point of her voyage around the world. She resumed sailing from St. Martin on January 20, 2011, and her voyage finally got underway. She didn't plan a detailed itinerary ahead of time. Or rather, she couldn't plan one because there were many unknown factors ahead, such as the weather. "I transited the Panama Canal, and sailed from the South Pacific towards the Indian Ocean, but to avoid the storm season I had to reach the Indian Ocean before November. That was about it for any formal planning. At first I intended to spend two years going around the world, but in fact it only took one year. Favorable weather conditions made a big difference to my original target."

Her yacht had been equipped with an automatic navigation system, which can sense the wind and automatically steer the rudder. "If the weather and wind conditions are good, you can leave the sail up, read a book, watch a movie, or even sleep, you can do anything." But if the weather turns bad "you may have to steer constantly." Laura used her hands when she spoke, and became quite animated with even the slightest gesture. You could see from her supple arms that operating a yacht is physically quite challenging.

Nonetheless, when you hear of someone sailing around the world in a yacht, and especially on their own, you imagine them desperately tending the sail in fierce storms and getting drenched to the skin. But in reality, it's just a matter of getting through the bad weather conditions, and moving ever forwards on the journey.

During her voyage, she made ports of call at various places around the world, and came in contact with the local peoples. You could see how much Laura had enjoyed herself from her expressions as she recalled those experiences. "It’s not like I wanted to see anything in particular, or had any definite objectives in mind. I just wanted to see a lot of different places, and experience a lot of different things. People often ask me what my favorite place was, but I went to many places and experienced many things. I learned that each place is different. So I really couldn't say which was best. For me, the whole trip was the best experience of my life."

The entire route for the 518-day voyage.

Her only way to contact the outside world during the voyage was a shortwave radio with SSB (single side band). "I used it because I could send text messages," Laura explained. She also had a satellite phone, but "fortunately, there were no emergencies, so I didn't really need any help, and hardly used it at all."

With a carefree smile, Laura explained that sometimes "there was no wind at all for two weeks, and at other times it was stormy...but I learned a lot from this, and I'm happy now that I had this experience."

"When I made it to the Indian Ocean I had been at sea for 48 days straight, but being alone all that time makes you grow spiritually. Around the two-week mark, you feel a sense of calm in the middle of all that natural beauty; and even though you're only a tiny presence in that great expanse of ocean, you also feel you have the strength to go anywhere in this little boat. But I don't think you can understand these feelings if you weren't there, no matter how I try to explain it. It really was an awesome experience."

Incidentally, it was Laura herself who drew the picture of the fish that decorates the side of her favorite yacht "Guppy" which she sailed solo around the world. Guppy had also been Laura's nickname. This image and the word "Guppy" adorn the gleaming pendant Laura wears around her neck. "The guppy is a very small fish. I gave my yacht that name, partly because of the idea that such a little fish could swim out into the great expanse of ocean, but also because people who saw me sailing when I was small used to call me that."

The yacht "Guppy" is 12.3 meters long.

Through the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, and around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Laura made it back to St. Martin on January 21, 2012. "When I got back, the first feeling I had was just how exhausted I was," she confessed. Laura was then 16 years and four months old. She had become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.

Receiving an enthusiastic welcome on January 21, 2012, on the Caribbean island of St. Martin after realizing her dream.

After successful solo sail around the world, this 17-year-old pursues her next dream

Laura made ports of call in various places during her voyage around the world, and came in contact with different people and various cultures.

Guinness World Records officially recognizes new records, but not in Laura's case because it "no longer certifies 'youngest' records so as not to encourage young people and their parents to take on dangerous challenges." Laura obviously knew she would break that "youngest" record if she completed the voyage successfully. Nevertheless, she didn't announce at the age of 13 that she would sail around the world with the aim of breaking that record; it isn't that important to her whether the record is recognized or not. "Even if I wasn't the 'youngest', I would still have sailed around the world eventually." After all, going around the world in itself "is not such an big achievement, in my opinion," Laura explained. "I mean, because sailing is just a part of my life."

In the immediate future, Laura plans to enter student life. She will attend the NZ Maritime School from February 2013, with the aim of becoming licensed as a captain so she can skipper a mega yacht. "I'll study at that school for three years, and initially get certified as a 'first mate'. I'd like to build up my work experience on ships, working my way up from the lower ranks until finally gaining my captain's license. Even though I'm an adventurer who will always travel, it seems for a while I'll be studying hard as a student."
For the time being, she'll take a break from sailing "It's quite sad not to be able to go sailing. It's like I want to go right now. But I don't think my life will change much from the way it's been. I'll still live on my boat, and I think I'll be able to go on short sailing trips for a week or two." While she's a student, she'll live on her yacht "Guppy" which will be moored at the marina at Auckland's Maritime Museum. "That's the cheapest way," Laura explains. The museum has provided her a free berth, on condition that Laura make various presentations over the summer to visiting school children. "I'm preparing different presentations about boats and sailing. I'll be able to show children inside "Guppy" if any of them want to see a boat that's been around the world. Since I don't have much money, my work for the museum will be in exchange for the berth to moor my boat."

Laura's vitality was put to good use on her trip around the world. "I went around to a lot of companies, gave presentations about my voyage, and many became my sponsors. I did it in the Netherlands before I left, and also at a number of ports of call during my trip around the world. Even so, my budget was limited, so I couldn't spend a lot of money. When you enter a marina you can use the water and electricity, but you are usually charged a harbor fee, so I anchored off shore most of the time. For instance French Micronesia is very expensive, so I just ate baguettes and cheese. When going through the Panama Canal, the transit toll alone cost a fortune; but I also had some damage to my yacht, and had to buy parts too. So for several days while I waited for permission to transit the Canal, I earned funds by giving presentations there."

Her story made you realize that simply getting on a yacht and sailing across the vast oceans was not the only adventure or challenge she faced. In the sense that she was attempting something that no-one else had done before, Laura's daily activities presented a number of adventures and challenges. "For sure, most people have a lifestyle quite different from mine, but when you travel you meet lots of people who are also travelling, and each is doing their own thing. It made me realize that everyone has something different to offer. In that sense, you could probably say you can usually find common ground with other people who are travelling. However, adventure means something different from person to person. I'm living my life as an adventurer, and hope I keep it up in the future, but I think it’s only natural that everyone has a different method and motivation for adventure."

Laura was keen to point out that she was certainly not special, "because everyone is different in his/her own way." Laura Dekker is still only 17 years old. But behind what she says is a wisdom born of experience.



Laura Dekker

Born September 20, 1995, in Whangarei, New Zealand. Born while her Dutch father and German mother were sailing around the world. Became used to shipboard life from the moment she was born, and skippered her first boat at the age of six when she sailed "Optimist" (a small one-seater yacht) across a lake near her home at the time. At age ten, she had already sailed solo in Friesland to the north of the Netherlands. When she announced at age 13 that it was her dream to sail around the world, the Dutch Child Welfare Office determined it was too dangerous, and a family court banned her from sailing. Following a 10-month trial, permission was finally granted provided certain conditions were met, among which were improvements to the yacht and its facilities, and subject to receiving schooling by correspondence. In August 2010 at age 14, she sailed from Gibraltar via the Canary Islands towards the Caribbean island of St. Martin, the official launching point for her voyage around the world. In January 2011, she left St. Martin and began her trip around the world. She headed westbound on a route that would take her round the Cape of Good Hope, thereby avoiding the coast off Somalia and the Suez Canal, regarded as dangerous pirate-infested waters. She transited through the Panama Canal, entered the South Pacific, and continued on towards the Indian Ocean via places such as the Galapagos Islands, and Australia. Thereafter, she rounded the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the African continent, and in January 2012 returned to port in St. Martin. The entire voyage was approximately 50,000 km, and had taken about one year to complete. By journey's end, at the age of 16 years and four months, she had become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world. She has dual citizenship in the Netherlands and New Zealand, and currently lives in Auckland NZ. In the spring of 2013, she plans to publish an autobiographical account of her adventures through a Dutch publisher.


"My Mac Book."

Favorite possessions
"My Mac Book."
"All the movies and pics from my travels so far are stored here. I painted the inside casing panel myself."
"Angry Bird ski cap"
"Good friends gave it to me in Cape Town during my voyage around the world, and ever since then it goes with me everywhere. I have pictures taken of myself wearing it in front of landmarks around the world."

Favorite book
"Maiden Voyage"

"That would be "Maiden Voyage" by Tania Aebi. [Laura read the Dutch translation titled "Solo."] Tania is another girl adventurer who sailed solo around the world at age 18. Because I sail too, it's not surprising I'm interested in the experiences and feelings of someone else who did the same sort of thing."

Favorite music
"The Ramones, Matt Costa, The Shins, Electric Six...."

"I like all sorts of music, depending on my mood, but the ones I mentioned are rock bands, aren't they. I also like some bands that are not so famous. But I'm into classic rock. What I listen to on my boat? It depends on the day. Because my favorite song is different every month.

Favorite Films
"Point Break" and "Waterworld"

"Both of them are action films. I like action and comedies, but not horror movies. "Waterworld" is a sci-fi film, but it's not all fiction. It takes place on Earth in the future, which has become an ocean planet because of rising seas due to global warming. I think it's well made, and has an interesting story."

Her Angry Birds ski cap, a cherished possession.


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