December 9, 2010

A ketch called Guppy

AMONG THE HUNDREDS of cruising sailboats plowing across the North Atlantic right now there is one rather special 38-foot ketch called Guppy. Most of the boats are taking part in the annual lemming run known as the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) but aboard the Guppy is a lone 15-year-old Dutch girl named Laura Dekker who is trying to become the youngest person to sail alone around the world.

She started officially from Gibraltar and then spent some time in the Canary Islands and the Cape Verdes, waiting for the hurricane season to end. Now she is deep into the Atlantic with more than 1,000 miles to go to the Caribbean island of St. Martin, but making good progress.

When she gets there it will be a homecoming of sorts, because once upon a time, before she started her record attempt, she ran away from Holland and ended up in St. Martin. The police found her and sent her back home. As you might gather, she is a feisty, well-developed, and very determined 15-year-old who was formerly the subject of a court battle when authorities tried to prevent her father from allowing her to set sail on her own. But a Dutch court eventually ruled that she was competent to handle a yacht,  and so she is now well on her way in the northeast trades.

But I’m afraid I’m not terribly sure why she’s doing this. After all, she will be 16 by the time she finishes, because she’s going to be visiting a whole lot of ports of call on the way. The present holder of the record, the Australian Jessica Watson, was also 16 when she finished at Sydney — but only just. She scraped in a little while before her 17th birthday. So in theory, Laura Dekker could complete her voyage as a younger 16 than Jessica Watson’s 16. But that would surely be a hollow victory because Jessica not only sailed alone around the world, she also sailed non-stop and without any outside assistance via Cape Horn, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Southern Ocean — a far more venturesome voyage than the one Laura is apparently contemplating.

Frankly, if I had a 15-year-old daughter I wouldn’t let her sail off on her own no matter how accomplished a sailor she was. My conscience wouldn’t let me. In my book, parents are supposed to protect their kids. My fear would be that there is more danger in the ports she’s going to visit than there is at sea, which is bad enough.

Nevertheless, I wish her lots of good luck on her long voyage. I admire her guts and tenacity. And as she matures she will learn that good judgment comes from experience. And experience (alas) comes from bad judgment.

Today’s Thought
The real meaning of travel, like that of a conversation by the fireside, is the discovery of oneself through contact with other people, and its condition is self-commitment in the dialogue.
— Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Persons.

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #131
Mainsail slides tend to jam in the mast track if they’re seized too firmly to their cringles (as many sailmakers tend to do, unfortunately). When the sail is being hoisted, the fastening should be free to move to the top of the slide, where the pull comes from. When you’re striking the sail, the seizing, or shackle, should be free to move to the bottom of the slide.

Tailpiece
Many a good man gone wrong is just a bad man finally found out.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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