September 22, 2011

A critical choice

LAURA DEKKER is about to make one of the most important decisions of her young life. She is the sturdy little Dutch girl who is aiming to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. Having just turned 16 on September 20, she is about to leave Darwin, Australia, on her 38-foot Jeanneau ketch, Guppy, on the return trip to Gibraltar, whence she started her record bid.

But which route is she going to take? North into the pirate-infested waters of North Africa and Arabia, up the Red Sea and into the Med? Or south, down around the Cape of Good Hope and straight up the Atlantic?

Laura herself refuses to say which way she’s going. Pirates can also read her blog,[1] she points out.

She’s about half-way around the world now, maybe a little more, and she has most of a year in which to claim the title from the Australian Jessica Watson, who scraped home to Sydney just before her 17th birthday.

Of course, there is no comparison between the two voyages because Watson’s was not only singlehanded, but non-stop and without any physical outside aid. And, significantly, she sailed via the world’s great capes, including Cape Horn.

Dekker, by comparison has been island-hopping and enjoying the local amenities on shore. Her father has joined her at crucial ports during the voyage to help her with repairs and general maintenance. And she’s taken the “easy” way around the world, via the Panama Canal.

Frankly, I don’t know what to think about young Laura. Her record, if she succeeds, will not be recognized by any official authority, and it will in any case be far less of an achievement than Jessica Watson’s.

But she is certainly an exceptionally capable young woman, no doubt of that. She is naturally very mature for her age, and she shows no fear of the sea. She only seems to be happy when her poor light-displacement fin-keeler is doing 7 knots with its foredeck submerged under cresting waves, and she arrived in Darwin with her sails in tatters and her steering gear on its last legs. She holds nothing back from herself, and she expects her boat to perform with the same sense of obedience. Luckily for her, Guppy has not yet experienced the extreme weather that Watson’s boat met up with several times.

Dekker’s parents are divorced and her father is the one who provides the greatest physical support. But I can’t imagine how he can let his little daughter go off around the world on her own on a sailboat at a time in her life when emotional support and a steady home life are of such great importance.

I’ve never had a daughter, but I’d cringe at the thought of abandoning my little girl among those predatory Aussie hunks in Darwin, never mind the pirates of the Arabian Gulf. No matter how competent she was, I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.

Anyway, I hope she chooses the Cape route. I’ve done it twice myself in small sailboats and I know I’d rather face a southwesterly buster than a Somali pirate.


Today’s Thought

The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well; and doing well whatever you do, without a thought of fame.
— Longfellow, Hyperion.

“Darling Rose, will you marry me?”
“No I won’t, but I have to admit I admire your choice.”

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


Rational Root said...

I hope you overstate her lack of fear of the sea -

"A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. We do be afraid of the sea, and we only be drowned now and again" Arran Islands Fisherman

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

As the father of a 16 year old I can only agree - I wouldn't let her out alone in the Solent, never mind the Cape (I wouldn't even let myself out there..) but they are all different..

EP said...

I suppose I'd feel the same way.

Then again, Laura is different, far different. Alone, rail down, 1,000, miles from land and loving it, you've got to feel sorry for the Darwin boys who would be no match for her.

They would be in awe of her, even at 16.

Better that she sets no record and does it her way; maybe any talk of records is a fund raising ruse.

Of course one hopes she takes the Cape route, her boat endures, and that the sea grants her grace to match her spirit.

Seeing how different kids are at 16 shines a light on how much good variation there is in people, trying to fit as we do into a more and more standardized world.