Exactly a year and a day after her Odyssey first began, 16-year-old Dutch schoolgirl Laura Dekker became the youngest sailor to complete a solo circumnavigation of the world. Dekker's final leg- a 41-day sail from Cape Town to St Maarten- was marked by bad weather, strong winds and high seas. She is disappointed that the record books will not record her singular achievement, though: controversies surrounding teenage sailors pushing to hold the "youngest" record have prompted almost all international bodies and record books, including the Guinness Book of World Records, to withdraw recognition of such attempts due to safety concerns.
Laura- 16 years and four months old- broke Australian Jessica Watson's 2010 time by six months, sailing into St Maarten in the Caribbean on January 21. Watson was a few months older when she completed her voyage, making Dekker- unofficially- the youngest to hold the record. After her 27,000 nautical mile voyage, Dekker says she may now relocate to New Zealand; she has dual New Zealand and Dutch nationality and was born on a boat off that country's coast. Dekker admits that her possible move is prompted by her experience with Dutch authorities who tried to stop the teenager's solo attempt for years. Dekker says she is angry and frustrated with the Dutch authorities who tried to 'destroy her dream.' In fact, she sailed into St Maarten flying the New Zealand flag- not the Netherlands one she started with- on her boat 'Guppy'.
The schoolgirl- who has been sailing solo since the age of six- had to overcome huge odds for years even before she commenced her voyage, a dream she says she has had since she was ten. Three years ago, Dutch child welfare authorities effectively stopped the then 13 year old's solo round the world voyage, raising questions about her age, her father's alleged irresponsibility in supporting her voyage- even Dekker's psychological state, navigational skills and lack of awareness of the dangers involved in her voyage. Dekker went back to court two years later and won permission to start her epic journey after a ten-month legal battle. This was after she had run away from home at the age of 14 in 2010, and was found on the same St Maarten that she later chose as a start and end point for her solo voyage.
Dekker has written a book about her voyage; she claims in her blog that she was more haunted by memories of Dutch social services threatening repeatedly to lock her up to stop her voyage than she was worried about pirate attacks, bad weather or the fear of being shipwrecked. She says, though: “There were moments where I was like, ’what the hell am I doing out here?’ but I never wanted to stop,” she told reporters. “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.”