In the early hours of last Saturday morning 14-year-old Dutch girl Laura Dekker sailed into Portimão Marina with her father to spend a few days resting and making final preparations before embarking on an epic two-year bid to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo. The Portugal News was told on Thursday morning that Portimão had been selected as a departure point as it is where Laura wanted to end her solo voyage sometime between 2012 and 2013, shortly before her 17th birthday.
During her stay in Portimão the teen avoided being questioned by the media, saying she was “resting” and would post updates regarding her adventure on her website, as of Wednesday this week.
A statement from her manager confirmed: “Laura arrived in the Portuguese port of Portimão in the early morning hours”.
Peter Klarenbeek told AFP that the docking had been kept under wraps at the 14-year-old’s request. Her boat was also inconspicuously located within the Marina.
“She has had so much media attention in the last year, and she decided she needed some time to be by herself, in peace,” he added.
Laura and her team, which includes her father Dick Dekker, spent most of the week at sea, testing equipment that had been flown in to replace faulty equipment detected during their sailing trip down to Portugal from Holland.
A spokesperson confirmed that Laura was out at sea testing her equipment and would launch her bid from the Algarve, revealing that Portimão was the port that Laura had chosen to complete her voyage.
“She chose Portimão because as far as I know, it is where she wants to return at the end of her journey in two years time”, Dutch-based Marijke Schaapkhok told The Portugal News on Thursday.
However, Dutch legislation, which forbids any captains under the age of 16 to sail from that country’s ports on boats measuring more than seven metres, could also have aided in the Dekkers choosing Portugal as their starting and finishing point.
She also confirmed that Laura was looking to set sail sometime this weekend, with Monday being the latest she would like to depart.
“Weather permitting, she could be off on Saturday, but all depends on the winds”, explained Marijke Schaaphok from her office in Hilversum, south of Amsterdam.
She is also managing director of television production company, Masmedia.
It emerged this week that Miss Dekker and her father have agreed terms with Masmedia for the television rights of her voyage which could last into the spring of 2013.
Refusing to disclose amounts paid, Masmedia confirmed “five cameras have been placed onboard which Laura can switch on and off at her convenience.”
An earlier deal with another Dutch television company fell through a few weeks ago, but Marijke Schaaphok refuted allegations that itwas because of a monetary dispute.
“We paid half what the other company had proposed. It was not about the money for Laura and her father”, the television boss said.
Television crews will be placed at the destinations Laura is planning to stop at, where she is hoping to spend several days at a time, often involving herself with the local community and charity work.
Laura Dekker’s next stop is expected to be the Canary Islands, though Madeira remains an option should the weather come into play.
Last year Laura and her family became the subject of much speculation after Dutch child welfare authorities unsuccessfully attempted to stop the journey. Their intervention resulted in a 10-month legal wrangle in which the authorities argued Miss Dekker was too young to undertake the trip.
Last month courts ruled that the decision should be left to her parents.
However the case reignited worldwide debates as to whether or not ever-younger sailors should be allowed to embark on such hugely risky adventures alone.
More recently, reports have emerged that Guinness may no longer accept ‘Youngest Sailor’ attempts.
A report by Associated Press stated “Guinness World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council have decided they will no longer recognize records for ‘youngest sailors’ to avoid encouraging overly optimistic youths backed by ambitious parents from seeking a world record”.
This comes in the wake of 16-year-old American teen Abby Sunderland who attempted a similar challenge in June this year but had to be rescued from a remote section of the Indian Ocean. A huge wave snapped her mast and left her helpless until she was eventually rescued by a French fishing boat more than 3,200 kilometres west of Australia.
For Laura Dekker, this means her ambitious achievements could remain officially unrecognised.
Nonetheless, Laura’s mammoth sailing bid must have come as no surprise to her parents, who are both sailing enthusiasts; she was born on board a yacht on September 20th, 1995, off the coast of New Zealand, during a round-the-world sailing trip embarked on by her parents, and has spent most of her life on the water.
Last year she proved her determination to sail the world solo when she disappeared from her family home, defying authorities who wanted to ban her from embarking on her global solo challenge.
Despite leaving a note for her father she was reported missing, sparking an international search.
Laura was found days later, thousands of miles away on the Caribbean island of St Martins, in the Dutch Antilles, according to the Dutch news agency ANP.
Miss Dekker arrived in Portugal accompanied by her father after setting off from Den Osse, south-west Netherlands ten days earlier. The trip was planned as a ‘test cruise’ to iron out any technical problems before launching her official solo bid.
Days before arriving in the Algarve on Saturday, Laura posted an update on her website, on Thursday, August 12th, while off the coast of Portugal. It read: “We are doing great here, sailing under full sail and going at nearly 9 knots. We are halfway along Portugal in line with Figueira da Foz. Oh yes, my dad is causing trouble again, he has a broken toe.”
“There are more and more dolphins and that is really super cool to see, and the water is such a beautiful blue!”
For her solo adventure, which she describes on her website as her “great dream”, Laura will be sailing her red-hulled 11.5 metre ketch, Guppy. Her route will take her across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Pacific via the Panama Canal. Laura plans to stop at the Galapagos Islands before heading to Australia, Thailand and through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden back to Europe.
Miss Dekker is hoping to break the current record for the youngest world solo sail, which was set in May by Australian teenager Jessica Watson.
Miss Watson completed a non-stop, unaided global trip a few days before her 17th birthday.
Readers can keep up with Laura Dekker’s progress on her website: www.lauradekker.nl.
Brendan de Beer and Carrie-Marie Bratley