You must have have heard about the spat that went on between the Dekker family and the people and powers-that-be in the Netherlands? 14–year old Laura Dekker wanted to sail around the world single handed. The child-welfare authorities took legal action to prevent her voyage and accused her father of being irresponsible and publicity hungry. She was placed under shared state guardianship by a Dutch court, which stopped her attempt to start her world voyage when she was 14, saying it was unsafe and would damage her development.
Laura on her ketch ‘Guppy’
Photograph: Jerry Lampen/EPA
However, Laura Dekker, who was, literally, born to sail having spent the first 4 years of her life at sea, won her case after 10 months, the verdict was that it was “up to the girl’s parents to decide whether she can make the trip.” She left from Gibralter in her 11.5-metre (38 ft) two-masted ketch, ‘Guppy’, with her father and sailed to St. Maarten. This segment did not constitute part of the solo circumnavigation, as her father was on board to coach her and test the new boat. But those trying times had left an indelible mark on Laura who said in her blog “Over a period of 11 months I was constantly afraid that Youth Care would lock me up. It was all a frightening and traumatic experience. So often these terrible memories come to me. I can’t ignore them. Now, after sailing around the world, with difficult port approaches, storms, dangerous reefs, and the full responsibility of keeping myself and Guppy safe, I feel that the nightmares the Dutch government organisations put me through, were totally unfair.”
She left St. Maarten on 20th January 2011 and docked back in the same harbour a year and a day later on the 21st January, 2012 to a heroine’s welcome.
Laura Dekker is the youngest person to sail around the world
Dekker later commented about the authorities in an interview, saying “They thought it was dangerous. Well, everywhere is dangerous. They don’t sail and they don’t know what boats are, and they are scared of them.”
Laura now holds the record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the world – all 43,450 km of it. The previous record holder was Jessica Watson, an Australian, who sailed around the world, arriving in Sydney in May 2010, three days before her 17th birthday. Laura turns 17 in September. Prior to Jessica Watson’s record it was 17-year-old Michael Perham, from England who circumnavigated the world in 2009 who held the record. However, Guinness World Records will not recognise any of these achievements saying they do not want to encourage minors to take on dangerous challenges.
A record that Guiness would recognise, however, was that of 26-year old Andrew Brown who has just broken the record for rowing solo across the Atlantic. Brown has been a keen sailor since childhood but hadn’t done much rowing before deciding to take part in the Talisker Atlantic Challenge, billed as the world’s toughest rowing race. He took part in the race on behalf of two UK children’s charities.
He took 40 days 9 hours and 44 minutes to cross the finish line, breaking the previous record for the Atlantic solo crossing by Frenchman Emmanuel Coindre in 2004, by well over 2 days.
Let me remind you that rowing across the Atlantic is no mean feat. Organisers say that more people have travelled to space than have rowed across the Atlantic.
Seventeen crews started the race on 5 December but eight pulled out because of problems including poor weather and sea-sickness. One team was disqualified after calling for help – the rules of the race ban external assistance, and yet another team had to be rescued after their boat was capsized by a big wave just before Christmas. Brown arrived in Port St Charles, Barbados only 30 minutes after the two man rowing team Toby Iles and Nick Moore.
Andrew Brown sets a new record for rowing across the Atlantic
Brown trained hard for the event but nothing could prepare him for the reality. By the end he’d lost 19 kgs (41 lbs), ached all over and was almost delirious from lack of sleep. He also almost immediately had more pressing problems to solve. “Everything on the boat was powered by solar panels and for the first two weeks we didn’t have much sunshine,” he said. “I became really tight on electricity, which I needed to make water. I was having to be really careful about how much I drank, which, when you’re doing that much exercise isn’t what you’re wanting to be doing.”
He becomes the 26th person from the UK to have rowed solo across the Atlantic.
Sarah Outen hopes to successfully row it at the end of her London2London epic journey which begins again in April.