They said she would never do it but it would have taken more than an obstructive government and the power of the great oceans to stop 16 year-old Laura Dekker from becoming the youngest person to sail single-handed around the world.
Dekker tied the knot on her circumnavigation on March 21st when she steered her 38ft Gin Fizz ketch Guppy into the Simpson Bay Lagoon to a tumultuous welcome from crowds lining the dock at the St. Maarten Yacht Club (SMYC). Earlier, Dekker was met at sea by a flotilla of boats carrying island dignitaries and reporters from the international press.
The jubilant teen expertly steered her yacht to the dock at the SMYC and, to the sounds of numerous horns and sirens echoing around the lagoon, stepped ashore into the arms of her family.
Any successful record-breaking voyage is marked by celebration and it was nice to see the SMYC going out of their way to maintain the tradition. This was a special day, for a special sailor. It would have been unforgivable not to have given Dekker the welcome she deserved in the port from which she set out 366 days earlier.
Also present on the dock were youngsters from the SMYC Youth Sailing Program who presented the circumnavigator with flowers and a yacht club bergee.
In an interview with All At Sea before setting out on her trip, Dekker said: “When I started this voyage, I never thought about any media. The fuss, I didn’t want it. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be in the media. I did it because I like to sail and love the sea.”
Having interviewed Dekker on her return, she stands by what she said, however, she is now more mature and I suspect she now realizes that, like it or not, her achievement has changed her life forever.
You could say that Dekker’s amazing voyage began when she was born aboard her parents’ yacht while it was anchored in New Zealand, during their circumnavigation 16 years ago.
Voyaging is in her blood.
At a brief press conference held on the SMYC dock, Dekker answered questions honestly and with little hesitation. However, she is still uncomfortable talking about her problems with the authorities in Holland, who tried to prevent her voyage from taking place. Poor reporting two years ago did nothing to help her cause and her mistrust of the press is justified.
Dekker was welcomed to St. Maarten by Education and Sports Minister Rhoda Arrindell. During a lengthy speech, Arrindell said: “Today I am compelled to ask when will we, as adults, refrain from projecting our own fears on our youth, and thus stop contaminating their brave minds with cowardice?”
Strong words from a minister in a world more concerned about what is politically correct than common sense.
The teen’s voyage was indeed a brave venture. After All At Sea posted images of her return on their Facebook page the story received 92 likes and 23 comments, of which only three were negative.
“I enjoyed it a lot. I’m really happy that I did it,” Dekker told reporters. “Of course there were moments where I was like ‘what the hell am I doing out here?’ but I never wanted to stop. It’s a dream and I wanted to do it.”
During her circumnavigation, she claims she never once hove-to or lay a-hull during bad weather. This is a testament to the boat, which she holds in deep affection, and to her seamanship.
Her landfall on the southern tip of Africa was particularly challenging. When land hove into view, the wind was gusting over 50-knots and Dekker had the boat reefed right down. She says “getting into port was a relief.” She said this in a calm and matter-of-fact voice and it left me wondering just what it would have taken to ruffle this girl in what turned out to be a near perfect circumnavigation.
There were some problems with the boat and things did break. Her sails ripped and at one point she spent hours hanging over the stern while making repairs to the self-steering.
Asked if she would like to take up a career in yacht racing, she said she wasn’t interested and that all she wants to do is cruise. The theme of being at one with the sea is something she returns to time and again.
In the February 2011 edition of All At Sea, I wrote: “I recognize in Dekker a deep love of and respect for the sea and that is why she will succeed.”
This remarkable girl did nothing to change my mind.
Gary E. Brown is the Editorial Director of All At Sea. He is a presenter on Island 92, 91.9 FM, St. Maarten, and the author of the thriller/sailing adventure Caribbean High. For more information visit: garyebrown.net