January 17, 2012

The Dekker enigma

I DON'T KNOW quite what to make of Laura Dekker.  In a few days she will become the youngest person to sail around the world singlehanded. But the accolades will be somewhat muted because the former little Dutch girl has suddenly become a little New Zealand girl.

She appears to have attempted to change her nationality, and her boat's registration, in mid- voyage in a fit of pique. Her 37-foot Jeanneau ketch now flies the flag of New Zealand.

In 2009, when Laura first announced her plans to circumnavigate the globe, Dutch authorities intervened and insisted she should first finish school. The child welfare authorities brought the case to court and a judge ruled that the then 13-year-old was too young to travel alone. Laura then ran away and took a plane to Sint Maarten, where she was arrested and sent back to the Netherlands.

In July 2010, a judge gave her permission to carry out her plans—provided she agreed to a number of conditions, including continuing her secondary education through an online teaching programme set up for Dutch-speaking children abroad.

But naughty Laura has reneged on that agreement.  She hasn't been doing her homework as she promised to.

Officially, Laura does not have to comply with Dutch regulations regarding her education, as she is no longer registered as a Dutch citizen. She holds New Zealand citizenship because she was born there—on a boat—while her parents were sailing around the world.

The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant says the World School, which organises the correspondence course education, is afraid a precedent will be set if they don’t intervene. “Laura is contending with an 80-year school attendance battle. Compulsory school attendance is sacred in the Netherlands.”

There is no doubt that Laura Dekker is greatly self-centered and very stubborn. But she is also very capable, surprisingly mature in many ways, and an excellent sailor.  She sailed around the world the easy way, taking the trade-wind route via the Panama Canal, so her accomplishment does not begin to compare with that of Jessica Watson, the Australian who sailed singlehanded and non-stop around the world via the great Southern Capes at the age of 16.

Laura received outside help from her doting father and others at every stop.  She received weather routing and advice every day by satellite communication. She appealed for money from the public on her website to help her indulge herself in her selfish dream.  She won't win any official record, because records like hers are not longer recognized by any competent authority.  But she will publish another book, no doubt make a lot of money, and probably find a job as a professional sailor.

I wonder if the Kiwis will clutch her to their hearts as one of their own?  I don't think the Dutch will, now she has kicked her fellow countrymen in the teeth.

Today's Thought
Loyalty is the holiest good in the human heart.
— Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium

A real Scrooge of a yachtsman who was away from home sent his wife a birthday check for one million kisses.
His wife called him and said: "Thanks for the check. The harbormaster cashed it for me last night."

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


Mike Taylor said...

Well I don’t give a toss what flag she flies or what the old men with their rule books say, she is still doing something remarkable.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I heard on the PBO forum that she'd changed nationality because the Dutch authorities were again trying to stop her???

jc luddite said...


this is the meanest column you have ever posted. you come off as a bitter mean and out of touch old grump. Did you think the same thoughts when Robin Lee Graham set off at 16 in Dove? he never finished school either.

you have forgotten what it's like to feel young.

it's time for you to stop writing.

john campbell

Hajo said...

Her fellow country men aren't exactly enamored of the Dutch bureaucracy either. I personally think that a circumnavigation would prepare one much more for life than a lousy MAVO (lowest high school diploma in NL). As far as making "a bunch of money" on a sailing book? WHAT?!? I don't think so, and you most than others should know that. She (and her family) will be very lucky if they break even...

Alfex said...

Good for you John. Someone had to call her on this. Nice to know the back story on her. She obviously has an entrepreneurial spirit. She will succeed using whatever resources are available because she has this spirit.

Loyalty to one's homeland is important to most landlubbers. At sea, not so much until you land. See "The Man Without a Country".

Nat said...

Sounds like someone might be a bit jealous to me.

Anonymous said...

Considering how the Dutch legal system protected VanDersloot (spelling not sure but don't care) when he killed an American I'd probably ditch my passport for a Kiwi out of disgust also also (unless I was OJ Simpson lol)

Salty Bob said...

Arrg John. Give her some slack. She's one of us for heaven's sake! She didn't play by someones rules and sailed her own way. She sounds like a lot of people we all have admired. "They" told Old Slocum that he was wrong too. (This is the grumpier side of you I haven't seen.)

thom permenter (power boater) said...

You certainly took every shot you could have taken at this young girl.
"The easy way"?

I have to concur with the rest of the posters. You need to lighten up dude.

Lindsey said...

"There is no doubt that Laura Dekker is greatly self-centered and very stubborn." This describes to a T many of the finest sailors I've had the pleasure of knowing.

I disagree with your take on the story, but I disagree far more strongly with the commenter who said "it's time for you to stop writing." It might be time for him to stop reading.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to pile on, John, but are you familiar with the expression: 'Illegitimi non carborundum'?

It means 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'.

Go Laura!

EP said...

This is not the first time the sea has attracted such a character to its bosom, but we’re right to be cautious about admitting her to the fraternity. If presented with the availability of grog, would she tell us a story over a pint? Or film a YouTube moment? Troubling.

It is hard growing up, and harder being free. She seems to be managing both better than most.

The real journey will start when the fanfare dies down. Here’s hoping she can keep her free spirit as she sets out on that long passage.