Friday, September 04, 2009

Laura Dekker

At the end of a solo circumnavigation Mike Perham, aboard an Open 50 ocean racing yacht crossed the finish line off Lizard Point on Thursday, 27th August 2009. Later, at his official homecoming in Portsmouth, he received a Guinness World Record Certificate in recognition of his achievement of being the youngest person to have completed a single-handed circumnavigation. Born on 16th March, 1992 he was just 17 years, 5 months and 11 days old (or young).

Laura Dekker,* a Dutch 13 year old, has aspirations to beat Perham’s record of being the youngest circumnavigator. Her parents support her in this venture which she believes will take 3 years aboard her very ordinary 28 foot cruising yacht, ‘Guppy’. There have been critics and doubters who believe she is far too young to take on the oceans, and being so young she may be vulnerable to those who may take advantage of her. Despite a ruling of the Dutch High Court preventing her from starting her voyage while under the joint care of the Child Protection Board and her parents, she is determined to overcome all obstacles. If, after a 2 month period, the Child Protection Board believes she is capable of achieving her goal, by being both physically and mentally competent to undertake the arduous challenge, it appears she will be free to go. Meanwhile, she will undergo psychological testing to ascertain if she will be able to cope under stressful conditions and to determine if her developmental growth as a teenager may adversely be affected.

It is my belief that today’s parents and those responsible for the wellbeing of our children have become far too protective. When I was a kid at Laura’s age, my parents may have been apprehensive when I was sailing my homebuilt canvas canoe around Plymouth Sound, but they encouraged me in my adventures. There was a high element of danger, and perhaps ignorance on my part and my parent’s, but I was free to expose myself to risk-taking and learn from the experiences. With this mindset, I am in favour of allowing Laura Dekker to start her character-building voyage of discovery, so that she may test herself, and if like me at the age of 50, after setting out to sail around the world in my homebuilt yacht, I had to turn back because I was not up to the psychological demands, at least she would have tried. If she were to die in the attempt, there would be recriminations against her parents and the authorities, but ultimately I believe she is mature enough to accept responsibility for her actions.

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