Who is Laura Dekker? The Youngest Solo Sailor Around the World

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Passionate about sailing since she was very young, Laura Dekker is today the youngest girl to have sailed around the world single-handed on her sailboat. Her young age but her unfailing maturity has left its mark on the whole world, and she has become an example of courage and perseverance. Even if it is obvious that it is not easy and that you have to fight to get there, Laura wants to prove today that by giving herself the means, it is possible to realize her dreams!

Laura Bekker

Laura Dekker, Speaking at the Hiswa Boatshow, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 3 march 2011, own work, Savyasachi, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A Passion for Sailing and the Sea Passed on by her Father

Laura was born in New Zealand and her passion could not be other than the one transmitted by her father since she was born on his boat 26 years ago. In fact, she has been sailing since she was 6 years old. Thanks to her father she has always been on the water, in contact with shipyards, boats, skippers, sailors, the ocean... and so on.

Her father Dick Dekker was a lifelong sailor, living on his boat and sailing with his family for many years, including Laura's mother Babs Müller, who is German (the young Dutchwoman has both German and New Zealand citizenship) and even before Laura was born. Laura's mother and her father (who built his own boats) traveled for 7 years and then had their first child Laura and continued to travel for 5 years with their child.

Laura's mother was not a fan of boat life, so when they had their second child Kim, Laura's younger sister, the family moved into a house. However, Laura's father only liked the sea so when Laura was 6 years old he decided to go back to live on a boat and Laura made the decision to leave her mother and sister and accompany her father in this return to the life of a sailor.

Laura and her father went to live on the boat that Laura's father was building and Laura grew up on it and was immediately hooked by the desire to sail and handle a monohull one day. At the age of 7 she had her first sailing competition and by the time she was 10 years old she had already bought her own seaworthy yacht (which she bought with her own money while working) and went sailing around Holland.

At a very young age, Laura was already traveling a lot on her boat and mostly alone with her dog. There she learned a lot about navigation, the weather system and many other things that had to be learned about sailing. Then at the age of 11 she went even further and at the age of 13 she went to England alone (without her parents knowing about it, which led to her being caught by the police in England and brought back to Holland).

After all these first little expeditions, Laura couldn't stop there, and decided to go around the world alone on her little boat!

A World Tour as a Teenager: Her First Battle was against the Government

As a minor, Laura had to fight to be able to go on her solo sailing expedition. Her departure was planned for September 2009, but in the end, the child protection services considered that the guarantees put in place for Laura's safety during this trip were clearly insufficient and so they requested a court order. Laura was then placed under provisional guardianship of the child protection by the court and saw her dream gradually fading away.

But, strong of character and persevering, the young girl did not give up and with the support of her father who had blind confidence in his daughter despite her 14 years of age, and with the help of her lawyer Peter de Lange, Laura fought for her rights. After 8 court cases she finally managed to convince everyone; the judges, the press, the government, the relatives... that she was fully capable of spending 2 years alone on her boat fighting against all odds thanks to the education she received from her father since her early childhood. In the eyes of all those who knew her, it was obvious that Laura was made to live at sea and follow her father's path.

Furthermore, in order to convince the authorities that Laura could very well go on her sailing trip and continue a stable life, Laura and her father promised to fulfill a number of conditions. Not only were security measures extended, thought out and put in place, but Laura was committed to receiving distance learning on board the Guppy via the internet and to doing her homework regularly.

An Epic 2 Year Solo Adventure on a Small Boat

Eleven years ago, at the age of 13, Laura embarked on one of the greatest adventures that the earth can reserve to man. As the only member of the crew on her small sailboat, it seems that the best moments of this crossing were at sea. Wanting to live the experience only by herself and without any help, Laura decided to refuse any sponsorship and preferred to sail her small monohull by her own means.

For this trip, Laura set sail for a round-the-world trip on January 20, 2011 in Saint-Martin in the Dutch West Indies after already 5 months of sailing from Gibraltar for a 1-year crossing until her return to Saint-Martin. His journey will have lasted a total of 519 days. 519 days of battle against six meter high waves, extreme weather conditions, dangerous reefs, disturbed sleep, cramped living conditions with mandatory food rationing and absolute solitude.

Yet when you hear Laura tell her story on her boat during her TedX talk (Youngest solo sailor, around the world at 16: Laura Dekker at TEDxYouth@Auckland), the expedition sounded very simple and relaxing with ideal weather, as if anyone could do it. We recommend you to take 12 minutes of your time to listen to Laura's story during this TedX where she tells about her 17 months adventure and everything she had to face to succeed in her exploration at sea before, during and after the trip.

📷 Credit: TEDxYouth's Youtube Channel

During much of this time, the girl still tried to live a teenage life where she tells her adventures on social networks, continues to attend school. But after a few months Laura ended up devoting herself entirely to sailing in order not to jeopardize her record attempt and succeed in crossing the finish line of her round-the-world trip, so she interrupted school classes on the high seas.

Indeed, Laura was traveling for her own pleasure, but she also had a record-breaking goal in mind for this solo crossing. Laura absolutely wanted to finish her circumnavigation before September 20, 2021, that is to say four days before her 17th birthday, because Jessica Watson, a young Australian sailor, finished her solo circumnavigation on May 15, 2010, that is to say three days before her 17th birthday.

Follow the route of Laura Dekker during her journey on this map (Laura was supposed to pass through the Gulf of Aden but finally an alternative route had been planned in order to avoid confrontation with pirates often present in this place):

Laura Dekker Journey

LThe solo around the world sail journey by Laura Dekker 2010-2012, 20 january 2021, own work based on this Wikimedia file : File:BlakMap-World-v2.svg, which is public domain, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

From Gibraltar on August 21st 2010, Laura sailed to Lanzarote which took her 4 days and left the Canary Islands on November 10th 2010. She then started her Atlantic crossing from Cape Verde to St. Maarten on December 2nd 2010. In April 2011 Laura and the Guppy reached the port of Darwin on the north coast of Australia and crossed the Pacific Ocean.

Here, Laura's basic planned route changed a bit, because originally, from Darwin Laura wanted to sail up the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean, but due to fear of pirate attacks in Somalia, Laura preferred to take the route around the Cape of Good Hope on the tip of Africa.

47 days and about 5600 nautical miles ( ~10,500 km) after leaving Australia, Laura and the Guppy reached the South African city of Durban. On December 12, 2011, they left Cape Town and finally reached their destination port of St. Maarten to cross the finish line on January 21, 2012 after a total of 17 months and about 27,000 nautical miles ( ~ 50,000 km).

A 12 Meter Sailboat as a Travel Companion

Her boat, called the guppy, was a bright red Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch. Built in 1978 by Michel Joubert (1943-2016), she was originally 11.40m long before Laura lengthened her to 12.30m. She decided to upgrade it to be more spacious and livable. Its width was 3,76m with a draft of 1m90. The Guppy weighed 11 tons with a cruising speed of 6 to 7 kn. The deck clearance was 18.70m.

We are talking about this boat in the past because Laura had the chance to live a long time in it after her world tour with it but after that she lent it to an association based in the south of California to allow children to sail. Following this donation, Laura was contacted by a couple who offered to buy it for this good cause.

Finally, the payment never received, Laura decided to offer it anyway to allow children to realize their dream on this boat as she herself had the chance to do. Unfortunately, a sad story for the Guppy, after many expeditions with skippers having very little experience, the guppy was more and more damaged with each expedition until it ran aground in 2018 at Manihiki, an atoll in the Cook Islands.

Laura was distraught at the mistreatment of her former home throughout the end of the life of this boat on which she had experienced extraordinary things, and extremely affected by this loss.

Laura Dekker Guppy Sailing Boat

Yacht « Guppy » in Den Osse, Netherlands, on 3 August 2010, 4 august 2010, 17:00, Own Work, Lighthouse Roter Sand, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A Successful Expedition Through Careful Decision Making

If many people think that Laura went around the world on a whim, it is in fact very organized and well thought out that she went on her long expedition (hence the reason why she also had the authorization from the authorities to go alone). She prepared herself for a long time with the help of her father.

Today, thanks to this expedition and her record of crossing the globe, Laura is the youngest person to have obtained a Yacht Master Ocean 200gt certificate which allows her to sail freely and is the record holder of the youngest person to have sailed around the world single-handed, from 2010 to 2012, aged 14 to 16.

A Hectic Life Marked by the Transmission of Her Passion

Laura, always attracted by the navigation, the sea, the sand and the ocean continues to live on a boat (after having lived for a while on the Guppy) and earns her living today. Not only does she share her passion for sailing with young people by training them, but she also released a book called "One Girl One Dream" in 2014 which is a beautiful autobiography taking in all the story of her solo round the world voyage. This very inspiring book now published in 4 languages including Dutch, English, German and Polish brilliantly captures every emotion Laura experienced during her long sailing trip.

After this extraordinary expedition, Laura became world famous and went on to give lectures on life at sea, participate in events and even take part in Dutch TV competitions on survival and evolution in extreme environments, one of which she won in 2014: Expedition Poolcirkel, a competition consisting of extreme physical tasks in the extreme environments of Iceland.

Prior to that, in 2013 Laura received the Award of Merit by the Ocean Cruising Club in Whangarei, New Zealand. Indeed, upon her return from the circumnavigation Laura would not have stayed in the Netherlands due to the difficulties she experienced there for her departure and returned to live in Whangarei where she was medalist.

sailing ocean

In addition, Laura managed to raise a significant amount of money through the "Laura Dekker World Sailing Foundation" in 2019. Laura had decided to build her own 24 meter long boat. After designing it, she looked for sponsors to finance her project. The purpose of the boat was to put 12 children on it to teach them many essential things such as self-confidence, teamwork and the use of technology in a sensitive environment (each of the values carried by Laura's Foundation).

As a proof of her maturity and determination, Laura works as an instructor for teenagers on her sailing boat. Her goal is to share her passion for sailing and perhaps also to prove to everyone that one can be young but travel in particular conditions, even dangerous under the storm, facing the different weather windows, knots and all other confrontations related to sailing. "When I met them, I had only one idea: to put them on a sailboat in the middle of a storm to shake them up a bit! At that age, you're still developing, you're looking for yourself... A boat is the perfect place."

Laura learned a lot about herself and matured very quickly thanks to her solo trip around the world as a teenager, she then wanted to help other children of that age to develop and discover themselves as she was able and lucky enough to do during her solo journey.

She has never lost the idea of going back for a long trip since then and the idea crossed her mind very quickly, as soon as she came back from the world tour with the desire to go around Cape Horn.

New Goals and a New Journey in 2022

Thanks to all these beautiful adventures already, Laura Dekker does not intend to stop there and has new projects linking her nautical passion, to the sea airs and to the sailboats as well as her pleasure to share what she knows how to do with her pupils. The young sailor's objective is to set sail again in 2022, not in solo sailing this time but with a group of young people in order to sail from Europe to the Caribbean for about 6 months.

The idea is that the different members of the group can choose to sail with Laura between 6 weeks and 6 months and choose between several itineraries along the Atlantic Ocean and through the Caribbean. The young woman wishes to share what the world has to offer and to teach many of the values she holds dear; self-confidence, teamwork, environmental awareness as well as discovering more concretely the power of wind and water.

For this new adventure, Laura and her group are planning to leave on a new "Big Guppy", which is bigger than the one on which Laura has been around the world. This one is 21 meters long and weighs 53 tons, which offers enough room for a total of eight young people, two crew members and herself as captain of the boat.

📷 Credit: Laura Dekker World Sailing Foundation's Youtube Channel

Conclusion

What an inspiring young woman already at the age of 26... If you liked this article, we will give you news about Laura's next adventures! Keep in touch and in the meantime you can follow the live tracking of the GuppyXL to know where she is in real time here : Position of the GuppyXL


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Author: Baptiste

Baptiste is a passionate adventurer and lover of old and charming retro objects. Through this blog, he seeks to share his passion for travel and vintage fashion

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