Weighing in On The 13-Year-Old Wants to Sail Solo ‘Round the World

Ahoy, Readers!

Today’s “Free-Range” controversy concerns Laura Dekker, a 13-year-old  in Holland who is already an accomplished sailor and now wants to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Her parents – or at least her dad, with whom she lives – is all for it. The Dutch equivalent of Child Protective Services is against it and currently seeking legal permission to step in, take temporary custody of the girl and stop her.

In other words: They want to ground her. (Literally!)

And I am with them.

Does this sail in the face of the Free-Range philosophy? No, matey. At Free-Range Kids we believe in two things: Freedom. And safety.

It may sound to some that safety is not of paramount concern here, but it is. That’s why (as you’ll note in the little statement to the left of this post), we believe in helmets and car seats and teaching your child to look both ways before crossing the street. Safety is good. What we don’t kyhsfaedyn
believe is that children are more endangered now than at any other time in history. That is why Free-Range is all in favor of letting kids do things that we did as kids that have only recently been deemed “dangerous.” Things like touching a shopping cart, playing on a merry-go-round, selling Girl Scout cookies and skipping to school. We believe 11-year-olds can be competent babysitters. They can also deliver newspapers.

We do not believe in actively courting danger.

Traveling solo around the world when you aren’t, say, fleeing the Nazis, seems less like ranging free and more like unnecessarily putting a young life at risk for the sake of bragging rights. (Or, God forbid, college applications.) If Ms. Dekker longs to sail far and wide, she can do it — with others. She’ll still get to see the world and have adventures, just like young Herman Melville.

But even Melville went with a crew.

Dekker’s dad is quoted as saying, “We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control.” But no one is in complete control on the high seas, unless their name is Poseidon.

Often when the authorities step in to override a parent’s judgment I find them out of line. When, for instance, they deem that a 9-year-old left at home for a few hours has been recklessly endangered by his parents. Or when they ticket a mom who lets her sleeping 2-year-old stay in the (locked!) car when she runs in to return a library book. Once again, those are cases that never would have been considered negligent a generation ago, which is generally my rule of thumb for determining whether something is truly risky or just a freshly minted, something-new-to-terrify-us-about-in-the-parenting-magazines precaution.

The ever-louder “What if…?” Chorus can be counted on dreaming up outlandish to scenarios that make parents believe any second their children are on their own, they are in dire peril. Scenarios like, “What if burglars break into your house on the Saturday morning you decide to leave your fourth grader alone?” But it is not a crazy “What if…?”  question to ask: “What if Laura, in a year of sailing, gets hit by the boom one day? Or gets dehydrated? Or too tired to sail after a relentless storm?” I love the idea of kids finding their inner strength. I don’t love the idea of their life hanging in the balance if they don’t.

As in cases of actual child abuse, there are times when the authorities really should step in to save a kid. A kid who can then grow up and take on the world.

Even by boat. — Lenore

79 Responses to Weighing in On The 13-Year-Old Wants to Sail Solo ‘Round the World

  1. Tray M August 27, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    I have strongly mixed feelings about this one. First, I do not believe it is the government’s right to step in to prevent this. This is entirely between the parents. If the government wants to step in and protect children, then figure out a way to raise driving ages so 16 and 17 year olds aren’t dying from stupidity behind the wheel every day.

    Secondly, after following Zac Sunderland and Mike Perham on their journeys around the world (Mike should be home Saturday), and reading and watching Jesse Martin’s story (Lionheart), I find it ridiculous to think that a 13-year-old girl, unless she is an exceptionally fit and strong young lady, would physically do this. Watching the boys struggle with repairs on their own, holding the boat steady when autopilots go nuts in storms, etc. – this requires physical strength as well as the smarts to know what to do. On those grounds alone, this is a foolish idea. The girl in the picture is slight, and while she may well be able to singlehand a sloop around in calm water, the Southern Ocean is no place to be 80 pounds and find out you aren’t strong enough to pull a broken boom back up onto deck and to singlehandedly repair it to prevent disaster.

  2. Neil August 27, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    I disagree with you. At what age do you propose we let her sail around the world? When is she suddenly old enough to do so? What has been her longest solo-voyage so far?

    I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now, but this really makes me question the values I thought you had.

    What if she is hit by the boom, get’s dehydrated, etc? The same can be said for an adult. Do we ban all solo voyages around the world regardless of age? Satellite beacons are common and cheaper these days. If she doesn’t report in for 24 hours, then send out the navy.

  3. pentamom August 27, 2009 at 1:02 am #

    Neil — your objections only hold up if there is no “real” difference between a 13 year old and an adult. Obviously, there is.

    Exactly at what point the line gets drawn might not be easy to determine, but that doesn’t make it any less obvious that there’s a big difference between 13 and adult.

    That said, I have the same concerns about the government being involved as Tray. But OTOH, the same principle applies — at some point, things are so obviously wrong that parents don’t have the legal right to allow their kids to do them (e.g., drive a car.) So again, the line isn’t clear, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    What I’m sure of is that this is a bad decision on the part of the parents. As to whether it rises to the level of the government legitimately being involved, I’m ambivalent.

  4. BMS August 27, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations.

    If this girl does it, and gets herself killed (as seems pretty bloody likely, given her age and size), then we’re going to hear the chorus of “What were her parents thinking! They should be put in jail!”

    If the government steps in to try to put some brakes on extremes of parental behavior, then we hear the chorus of “All government interference is BAAAD”

    Personally, if we can’t expect a 13 year old to drive solo across the country (where there are actually people around to help in emergencies), how do we expect a 13 year old to circumnavigate the globe alone? After the Jessica Dubroff fiasco (she was, what, 7? when she crashed the plane she was flying?), any time I see these “Youngest ” attempts, all I see is a parent living vicariously through their kid to the detriment of the whole family.

  5. Janice August 27, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Is a solo voyage TRULY solo? Meaning, are there NO other boats in the vicinity ‘helicoptering’ just in CASE something happens? I am not sure I believe age alone is a good criteria for making a decision about this. Perhaps her weight, strength, etc., previous experience, knowledge and all could be deciding factors…I haven’t read any of the ancillary articles or information on this so I may not have a complete picture. I can completely respect others thoughts on this though and certainly the position of the blog host doesn’t negate my confidence or interest in continuing to read this blog. 🙂

  6. Michael August 27, 2009 at 2:18 am #

    Assuming the intention is to turn this child loose, stand on the shore waving goodbye, and go back to the house and sip Starbucks Mocha Frappe’s until she returns a year later… then this is a bad idea and the government needs to step in and stop it.

    If the intention is to set her adrift, monitor her with radios, shadow her with a support craft, and follow her progress closely and carefully, then I have to reconsider. I’d put it in the “bad idea” category, but perhaps not the “Government needs to step in” category.

    I know I was about her age when my father let me swim across the lake at our lake house. That was about 5 miles. I made it, and my father was never more than about 20 feet from me in our boat with a rescue ring at the ready. Looking back, bad idea. But not something that required a law or the government to get involved. And yes, there was a lot of “rest floating” involved as I recall.

    And yea, I like Starbucks Mocha Frappes.

  7. Carol August 27, 2009 at 2:29 am #

    who would be paying for the navy? who is going to be shadowing her? If she’s being shadowed in the manner you propose, then is she truly “solo” or is it more like training wheels? If she really IS solo then she WILL be alone in the very very large ocean. Remember how long it took to get ship to NO after Katrina…also – this is the Netherlands, not the US.

    Seems like a bad idea to me regardless of how well she’d do. What’s wrong with a father daughter trip?

  8. Randy August 27, 2009 at 2:33 am #

    I too would like to know more about her past experience. I have a hard time believing that she has mastered every intermediate step between learning how to paddle and going solo around the world. I just don’t believe she’s had enough time to learn it all. Perhaps a much shorter solo trip, if it’s total independence she has her eye on. Or like Lenore says, what’s wrong with a travel companion or two?

    If she, and more importantly, her parents aren’t simply attention seeking they’ll welcome those little steps as a chance to learn (and be rewarded) for hard work. Lenore’s quote from the father is very interesting, claiming she’s in total control on the open ocean. I wonder how many deep sea fishermen (and women) would agree that a year or two of hands-on experience is enough to let someone master their craft. I doubt any of them would.

    Healthy people don’t teach kids about weapons by handing them a loaded .45. Healthy people don’t teach ANY skill by taking the hardest, most dangerous, most challenging activity and just tossing the kid in with fingers crossed. That’s not free range at all! It’s just a meaningless sacrifice.

    An extended solo voyage is a worthy goal. I don’t blame her for her dreams at all. But how hard is it really to set requirements that must be met before she can undertake a quest like that? She needs a path of education that culminates at that goal, instead of starting there and hoping that she has the skill and luck to survive the trip. That’s just meaningless risk taking, and she’s STILL going to have to go back and master those little steps before she can consider herself truly experienced.

  9. Randy August 27, 2009 at 2:38 am #

    Just to add, I expect children to want to jump ahead to the end-game activity that is closest to their heart… Heck, when I was 12 I wanted to be an astronaut more than anything in the world. I would have gladly gone up with the next shuttle mission and performed EVAs, if they had a space suit that would fit me. Getting to go without all the hard work and good grades would have been a dream come true.

    It’s strange and troubling to see a parent that feels the same way, though.

  10. Stacy August 27, 2009 at 2:44 am #

    Knowing several tall ship sailors, I can’t imagine this is a good idea. It takes a lot of hands to sail a decent sized ship around the world, and smaller ones aren’t any more stable. In addition to the physical demands of such an endeavor, the psych demands of sailing are nothing to sneeze at, either, which would be much more my concern with a 3 yr old. I’d recommend she intern on a tall ship for several of their longer voyages before attempting a circumnavigation. But then, they likely limit the lower age of their interns for liability reasons.

  11. KateNonymous August 27, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    I feel like there’s some important context missing from this story. Chiefly, what is the general–and governmental–attitude toward children’s abilities and independence in the Netherlands? What kinds of actions and activities typically trigger intervention by their version of Child Protective Services?

    There are many societal attitudes that differ from the Netherlands to the U.S. Knowing how this case fits into that bigger picture would help me determine how I feel about it.

  12. Olivia August 27, 2009 at 3:03 am #

    I have to agree with you here, Lenore. I don’t want the government telling me I can’t run 15 feet to the library drop off box in full sight of my locked car, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think there is any place for oversight of particularly bad parenting decisions. Not in a “line in the sand” inflexible way either, but in a way that allows people to actually look at a situation and assess it’s safety. In this case, it does seem that the parents are putting the child in an incredibly unsafe situation that most adults wouldn’t take on by themselves. There is a big difference between letting your 13 year old walk to school by themselves or babysit the kid next door and take off into the high seas for a year. I consider myself pretty free range (much as I can be with very small kids anyway – but as they grow they will definitely have a lot of freedoms) but I would still expect that if I one day decided it would be perfectly ok for my 3.5 year old to walk alone to the supermarket (about five miles away along busy roads) with cash in hand that someone would step in and forcefully change my mind. And they would be right to do so, and would hopefully step in before my bad decision caused my child to get hurt.

    Being free range does not mean being careless with our kids – it means respecting their abilities as well as their limits, and looking at the world around them realistically. Assuming your 13 year old can handle a year alone on the ocean in potential storms does not appear to be a realistic assessment of risks or abilities.

  13. andreahg August 27, 2009 at 3:18 am #

    I come from a long line of sailors and when I was a teen, my dad gave me a book written by a young girl who had singledhandedly sailed around the world. I believe she was 15 or 16 when she did it. I can’t remember the title of the book, having read it more than 20 years ago. It was a harrowing experience, but she was well trained and well prepared for it. This was back before the existence of cell/sat phones and GPS. At the time I was given this book, I was considering doing the same thing. Reading the book made me realize that I wasn’t ready. I am conflicted because I feel that if her father believes she is ready, it’s his decision to make. On the other hand, I can’t believe that a 13 year old girl has the physical strength that is needed for singlehanded circumnavigation.

  14. Tray M August 27, 2009 at 3:21 am #

    Getting hit by the boom, and being able to drag it out of the water and repair it are two different things entirely.

    As to communications, when you are in some parts of the world’s oceans, you are literally days from help. Not communicating for 24 hours is fairly normal. Sat phones don’t work well in extreme cloud cover, or in the rain, and they depend on batteries which can go dead. So an emergency alert after that period of time would scramble the rescuers many times on a 7 to 8 month journey.

    My only point is that there is some physical strength and ability necessary to do this. Mike Perham is on a boat that probably costs $250,000 new, designed for open ocean navigation and racing, and it is battered beyond belief after his months at sea. Many of the repairs had to be made on the spot or risk total disaster. If Laura Dekker can lift, haul, and repair anything and everything on the boat, then let her go since it appears that she has the knowledge (though the choice of a 24 foot boat – hmmm, most of these folks are in 32 to 50 footers – makes surfing the waves in the storms easier, but maybe a 24 footer is what a 13 year old needs, and can handle).

    And no, there are no other boats out there “helicoptering”. Jesse, Mike and Zac all went days at a time without seeing another boat, and an accident of a racing boat while Jesse was at sea would have meant disaster if another racer had not been nearby to effect a rescue.

    There’s a lot going on here. She may well have the knowledge to do this. She would certainly have plenty of help from home (weather routers, etc.). But I still question the sanity of a smallish girl being physically able to do this.

    See her here: http://tinyurl.com/logwlp

  15. Randy August 27, 2009 at 3:32 am #

    Just as an update, Laura has renounced her Dutch citizenship and plans to head to New Zealand where her chances of being interfered with are supposedly lessened. She’s hoping that if she’s no longer a Dutch citizen their courts will be powerless to stop her.


    I’ve got to admit, she has guts and determination. It’s just a shame that a lot of gutsy and determined sailors a lot more experienced than she is have been drowned and lost at sea. Vanity and pride will not keep her alive if she gets stuck out there.

  16. Ellen August 27, 2009 at 3:33 am #

    Tania Aebi, who was not at all prepared to sail around the world, wrote an incredible book called Maiden Voyage about her experiences and how much she grew through doing everything solo. Granted, she was 18 when she started and Zac Sunderland was 16. There is certainly a lot of development and independent thinking that is gained during adolescence. 13 seems young to have the problem-solving capability to deal with crisis on the open water.

    However, I don’t think the government should have a say about this kind of decision unless there’s licensing involved.

  17. Randy August 27, 2009 at 3:46 am #

    Blah, as Katenonymous mentioned, there is a lot more to this story.


    Mom and dad are divorced… dad is big into sailing and the one Laura lives with.

    What I want to know is if she’d still go if she had no chance of breaking a record. What’s the hurry? Why now, if the record-breaking chance has nothing to do with this? I know JACK ALL about boating, but I know that when someone discounts any additional experience or help or training or time it’s a bad sign.

  18. Naomi August 27, 2009 at 3:53 am #

    High-risk solo trips (like solo circumnavigation, solo peak attempts on major mountains, etc.) are stupid for adults, too, IMO. It’s just that once you’re 18, society’s not going to stop you from doing stupid stuff. (We might send you the bill for your rescue, but we won’t lock you in prison to keep you from the attempt.)

    Free range is about letting kids do the stuff everyone did in the 1970s and 1980s — not about letting kids do the stuff that’s dumb at any age. My parents let me climb trees, because that was a healthy, normal part of childhood; I was not allowed to get out the extension ladder and climb up to play on the roof of our 2.5-story house, because that would be stupid and dangerous.

  19. Evan August 27, 2009 at 4:01 am #

    I can’t help being reminded a little bit of Jessica Dubroff. Not to suggest that she’s certain to die, nor that Ms. Dubroff’s age was responsible her death (she had criminally stupid adults along with her, and they’re the ones that made all the dumb decisions that killed her). The similarity is that both girls wanted to do something big from a very young age, and didn’t want to wait until later to do it.

    This girl may well be perfectly competent to sail around the world solo at 13, but if so, then she’ll also be competent to do so at 15 or 16. Most kids do a whole lot of maturing in those two or three years. A little bit of waiting might improve the experience for her.

    That said, I don’t know much about sailing, and nothing at all about this particular girl’s abilities. If her parents have made a reasoned judgment that she’s ready, I don’t feel it’s my place to dispute that. I would counsel partience and prudence; I would not use the power of the state to impose patience and prudence by force.

  20. Mike Hussein Cohen August 27, 2009 at 4:02 am #

    As you probably know, 17 year old Zac Sunderland recently completed a solo trip around the world. There were times when he was in danger and was afraid he wouldn’t make it. If it was that dangerous & difficult for him, there’s very little chance she could make it safely.

  21. Tari August 27, 2009 at 5:29 am #

    I too am have been on the fence with this one since first reading about it. I’d certainly want to encourage my child’s interests and dreams, but it does seem that this could be beyond a 13-year old’s ability. I have no doubt that Laura is an accomplished sailor with a high degree of motivation. But the world’s oceans and Mother Nature are pretty darn challenging. OTH, I agree that I don’t want my government deciding they can better parent my child just because I agree to let them do something risky.

    Someone earlier suggested sending out a search and rescue (SAR) team if Laura didn’t report in on a set schedule. Let’s assume such a scedule could be maintained for the duration, and a check-in was missed. Speaking as the wife of someone whose main job description includes SAR–he is inthe Coast Guard- is it fair to the SAR teams across the globe to put their members at risk of injury (or death if we want to be honest about it–Mother Nature and all) just to check up on her? Not to mention their family members that anxiously await everyone’s safe return?

    For those that will say it’s a SAR team’s choice to be in that profession–Yes it is. And I thank God everytime my husband calls to say they’re safely back on the ground or when he walks in the door and I’m gald there are those that choose to save when things go wrong. But the rescuer’s families also get to deal with the fallout when calls don’t have a happy ending. People, it affects everyone at the station whether they flew or not that time. While I still don’t think the government should be allowed to dictate how to raise a child, sometimes another viewpoint is needed.

    Sorry for the long comment. Seems I feel a little more strongly about this than I thought. Thanks for letting me get it out, Lenore.

  22. deanne August 27, 2009 at 5:44 am #

    Besides the very significant danger this girl faces on a solo trip, there’s also the very real risk of isolation and loneliness. Has she ever been completely by herself before for weeks at a time? Is any child of 13 emotionally mature enough to face that kind of isolation? I enjoy reading tales of extreme adventures and one thing that always strikes me about solo sailing trips is how shaken the sailors are by the weeks and weeks on their own. It can drive even the most stable and mature adults to near insanity in many cases. Also; what about school?
    When reading the quotes from Laura and her parents in the news reports, I’m struck by how many references there are to being the “youngest” and the “first”. I think this is certainly more about the record and not about what’s best for her. Why couldn’t she do a circumnavigation with her parents along with a few solo stretches in the safer parts? Because that wouldn’t get her in the record books is the only reason as far as I can see.

  23. Kenny Felder August 27, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    I accept that this is not “Free Range” because I accept that “Free Range” is whatever Lenore says it is–it’s her word, after all. But I’m on the other side, so maybe there’s no name for me except “crazy.”

    I think Tray’s comment that “there is some physical strength and ability necessary to do this” is a good example of the kinds of argument I hear all the time. Perhaps we should have a strength test as a requirement for sailing? Or allow teenage boys, but forbid adult women? (My bet is on the teenage boys in an arm-wrestling contest every time.) Ah, but those would be considered discriminatory. In general, we consider it a Bad Thing to discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, age (of old people), and often on the basis of ability…but age (of young people) is always the exception. There, it’s perfectly acceptable.

  24. Mary August 27, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    I don’t necessarily think this is a stellar idea either, but there are quite a lot of comments here that don’t have the facts.

    Dekker has already done the shorter but still lengthy solo journeys people are suggesting here and thus, also, her ability to be alone for more than a day at a time has already been tested. She has spent seven weeks sailing the Atlantic alone previously. She is proposing this (yes, much lengthier, much more dangerous, not that solo sailing is ever safe) voyage on top of the experience that some commenters here are recommending for her, not instead of it.

  25. highlyirritable August 27, 2009 at 7:06 am #

    13 is old enough to take a train across the province to visit a family member for a week. But a solo world round sailing trip? No thanks. I wouldn’t even allow my “one day from eighteen” year old to do it. Not only for their own safety, but for MINE – I’d go crazy with worry from the risks involved, and lack of team effort available to overcome obstacles, both physical and mental, that teamwork alone could eliminate or solve.

  26. Carey August 27, 2009 at 8:43 am #

    There’s a bit more about the New Zealand angle here:



    Apparently Laura was born in New Zealand waters (well, not in them) and holds a New Zealand passport.

  27. kate August 27, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    As a sailor, I am fascinated by this story. The popular media are not giving me enough details to decide whether or not this is a truly bad idea such that the government should step in.

    “Sailing Around the World” makes it sound like it would be nonstop, but that is not the case. She has planned stops to re-provision and wait for better weather.

    My questions are: how long are the longest legs of her journey? How is she planning on handling the Southern Ocean? How do the legs of this trip compare to the solo trips she has done before, both in distance, duration (not the same as distance) and difficulty? What are the capabilities of her boat and the safety equipment on board? What are her emergency plans? These questions are somewhat similar to the questions one has to answer when applying to participate in a long distance race or to rent a sailboat. I can only hope that the Dutch court is asking similar questions. The answers, or the lack of answers, will indicate whether or not this adventure is a good idea or ill conceived.

    I have sailed (raced) since I was about six years old. My sailing CV will never compare to Laura Dekker’s, but I have seen enough to know how dangerous the sport can be. There really are too many unanswered questions to say, as someone somewhat knowledgeable about sailing, whether or not this is unacceptably dangerous for a thirteen year old of her capabilities.

    My two sailor cents. 🙂

  28. Cathy August 27, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    I do not believe it is the government’s decision. I think this rests with the family. I felt like Zac Sunderland took charge of an amazing opportunity, and I applauded his parents’ free-rangey-ness.

    Now, Zac was almost 17. I have taught in middle and high school, and I know that 17 is much, much older than 13. In addition, during Zac’s trip, he had a very frightening moment involving possible pirates.

    According to her parents, she has been sailing for a very long time, and has a lot of experience sailing solo. They believe she is completely capable. I want to point out that there may indeed be older people with less experience ready and willing to do this. We probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

    All this said, I do not think she should undertake this journey. I think it is a recipe for disaster. If there were other teenagers on the boat (mixed ages), I would feel differently. Still, though, I do not think the government should make this decision.

    Finally, it will never be safe to sail around the world solo. Never. No matter how old you are. Anything can happen out there.

  29. Virginia August 27, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    I don’t personally understand why *anyone* wants to sail around the world solo. What’s the point? In this case, it sounds like making the record as the “youngest to do X” is a strong motivation, which I never think is a particularly good reason to do anything.

    Whether the government needs to step in is another question. On balance I think I’d say yes, but I’m not really comfortable with it. It might be the lesser of two evils, but it would be far better if someone could just use logic and compassion to talk this family out of what seems like a really bad idea.

  30. MaeMae August 27, 2009 at 8:55 am #

    Lenore, you had me worried here. I think this is the perfect instance of when the government should get involved. I completely agree that free-range does not give us a license to let our children make dangerous and potentially life-threatening decisions just to break a record. There are times when parents have to say no and support their child’s interests by helping them find safer ways to follow their dreams. I don’t think it will crush her dreams or ruin her life if she learns that her safety is more important than a record.

  31. Virginia August 27, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    @Evan — I too thought of Jessica Dubroff when I read this story. One of the many sad things about the accident that killed Jessica, her father, and her flight instructor was that the instructor — who was actually piloting the plane when it crashed — was known locally as a cautious and conservative pilot whose judgment was generally excellent. It seems that he got caught up in the media frenzy and let his desire to stick to their itinerary overwhelm his judgment. Who’s to say whether a young teenager would be more or less susceptible to that kind of thinking? All I know is that it seems like an unwarranted risk.

  32. Tobias August 27, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    I think there are certain exceptions to the rule. For example, the summer before I turned 14 I spent all but the final two weeks of vacation backpacking (the two weeks were so I could adjust to civilization again). It wasn’t something most teenagers are capable of, in fact, it’s not something most adults are capable of. However, my parents had raised me with extensive wilderness skills and knew that having one of them with me wouldn’t change my chances of survival.

    So I do think it’s possible that Laura is capable of a solo voyage. I don’t think it’s particularly likely (especially given her size), but it’s possible. My bigger concern is the media frenzy that has come with her plans. If her parents simply wanted to allow her to achieve her dream why didn’t they quietly gather supplies and send her off? It *is* possible to be discrete, even with the internet and 24-hour news cycle.

  33. Veronica August 27, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    I think that anyone- man, woman, adult or minor- who chooses to sail solo on such a voyage is putting their life at risk. Period. The question is, who should be given the power to decide whether this girl should be allowed to risk her life? If she were an adult, then that would be between her & G-d, I suppose. Since she is not, she has a diminished capacity to make that decision for herself.
    I say this because it has been scientifically proven that adolescents lack the full ability to predict the outcome of their decisions, due to the fact that their brains have not fully developed & do not fully develop until they are well into young adulthood.
    I despise government intervention into parenting, however, in this case, it is the parents who are intruding upon the child by making a (life-or-death) decision on her behalf.
    Now to stray off topic for a minute….I have been following this blog for awhile, & Lenore, you are one of my ‘parenting heroes’ & a personal parenting role model for me, as the proud, free-range mother of 2 young, free-range girls. I have to ask you, though, since you mentioned it in this post, & I’ve read it in your posts before…what’s the deal with the helmets for bike-riding?? I totally disagree with you on this one. WHY do kids suddenly need to wear helmets to ride a bike? None of us wore helmets when we rode our bikes as children. Sure, we got some cuts & scrapes, but isn’t that part of the territory in a traditional, healthy childhood? In today’s post, you wrote:
    ” Free-Range is all in favor of letting kids do things that we did as kids that have only recently been deemed “dangerous.” ”
    Like riding their bikes without helmets, no?
    Am I wrong here?

  34. harmil2 August 27, 2009 at 10:04 am #

    I am with Mae Mae on this one. We are not talking about a 1 in 1.5 million chance that this 13 year old girl might die nor that she might sail the seas alone for 750,000 statistical years before something awful happened. The chances she might die if allowed to do this are pretty darn good. I am glad there are laws in Holland as there are in most of our states to protect this girl from both her father and even herself.

    Now on the offhand chance New Zealand allows this and she does somehow survive, what do we do about the next parent and child who want to beat the new youngest world record with a 12, 11, or 10 year old? I view this as similar to the issue of the government stepping in so parents can’t withold medical treatment from their seriously ill children because of their cultural or religious beliefs.

    Now, I think I better duck…..!

  35. Nicola August 27, 2009 at 10:22 am #


    Ok. The whole philosophy for this place always seemed to be knowing your children’s limits and abilities and allowing them to discover those as well.

    Without knowing all of the particulars of her skills – how can we all say she isn’t ready? Even if my kids were able to sail around the world, I wouldn’t let them – not for their sanity, but for my own.

    That said, of course I’d love to see her go with a crew – but that’s not solo. If her parents are pushing her to do it, absolutely not. If she wants to go and they know she’s capable and they are willing to let her do it… I don’t think anyone should stop her.

    I guess I’m crazy. I will say that I do feel the government has a place in protecting children – but they should be protecting them from adults that beat them and mess them up for life by being insane and cruel – not protect them from parents that are going to let them do something that everyone knows they can do.

    That said – accidents and what-ifs DO happen – and that’s at any age and stage.

  36. MaeMae August 27, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    I liken this to a 13 yo wanting to live alone for 2 years. Some states don’t even allow 13 yo’s to watch other children but I’ve decided that my child is old enough and responsible enough to live alone for 2 years. People would go crazy, I would be a horrible parent. But letting a 13yo loose on the open seas by herself? We’re supporting a dream…her parents have the right to decide. At least in a home, she would have neighbors, a police dept. a fire dept., etc. Search and rescue teams won’t respond in certain types of weather or ocean conditions and it could take days for someone to get to her. The other thing that amazes me is the fact that she would be all alone. It seems hypocritical that I’m criticized for home schooling because obviously my children never interact with other children. But sending a 13yo off to be by herself for 2 years is perfectly acceptable. I don’t understand.

  37. allison August 27, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I realize it’s a digression from the post, but I want to weigh in on Veronica’s comment about bike helmets.

    When making decisions, we have to weigh risk versus reward. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” isn’t a good reason for doing something, and neither is “It’s the modern thing to do!” When a new safety invention or standard like a bike helmet comes along, reasonable people should evaluate it in terms of risk/reward.

    The risk of wearing a bike helmet is small (you muss up your hair, it costs some money, it’s a thing you have to remember to do) but the reward is great (saving yourself a head injury). Kids suddenly should wear bike helmets because we’ve learned that lasting brain injury is more common and serious than we used to realize (more reward to wearing a helmet), and simultaneously better, cheaper, lighter, more comfortable helmets are available (less risk to wearing a helmet).

  38. allison August 27, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    Another thought: Veronica, I’ll turn your question around. What benefit does a kid get from riding without a helmet? Why do you think it outweighs the risk of a head injury?

  39. Alexicographer August 27, 2009 at 11:49 am #

    With others, I’m ambivalent about this. Not about whether it’s a reasonable plan for a 13-year old to sail solo around the world (I don’t think it is), but whether the government should intervene.

    But, to pick up on one person’s comments, though the theme is echoed in many others, above

    Nicola, you write …

    “Without knowing all of the particulars of her skills – how can we all say she isn’t ready? … If she wants to go and they know she’s capable and they are willing to let her do it… I don’t think anyone should stop her. …That said – accidents and what-ifs DO happen – and that’s at any age and stage.”

    Well, for me the issue has to do with how well a thirteen-year old, any thirteen-year old (obviously some worse, some better than others, but nonetheless) is capable of assessing risk and her own willingness to accept it (not how capable a sailor she is, though obviously the answer here had better be “very.”). The problem is, dead is dead and seriously injured is seriously injured (and even the world’s most capable sailor has a non-trivial chance of ending up that way on the journey planned, I believe). Of course the “dead is dead” thing is true whether there was one chance in a million or a 50% chance of something dreadful happening, but at some point I do think it’s possible to say that something is so dangerous that children shouldn’t be allowed to do it. Ever. At all. We then have to decide how dangerous is too dangerous, who is a child (too young), and so forth, but protecting people from a “very great” danger — even one that also carries great rewards if the dangers don’t hit — until they are old enough truly to be able to evaluate the consequences of their decisions (and no, I don’t believe a 13-year old is) strikes me as part of good parenting. And perhaps within society’s right to step in and say that if a parent doesn’t do it, “we” will. Though as I say, I’m somewhat ambivalent about how the implementation works on that one.

    My feeling is the young lady can wait and do her journey when she’s 16 … or 18 … or 21 if she still wants to. It won’t be any less of an accomplishment then, even if it doesn’t set a record.

  40. Tobias August 27, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    MaeMae makes a very good point. This teen would be porting in foreign cities to buy supplies and wait out bad weather. So she would be wandering unknown territory alone, likely without knowing the language.

    Even assuming Laura is capable of the sailing portion of the trip, is it really wise to allow a young teen to travel around foreign countries without an escort? For that matter, is it legal? Would it theoretically be possible for the authorities in a port city to decide she has been abandoned and take her into custody? I’m not an attorney in any country (let alone several) so I don’t know, but that would be something to look into.

  41. Meagan August 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    If I had a thirteen year old daughter (or son) I would never let her do something like this.

    As many of the commenters have stated, attempting to sail around the world is a completely nutso thing to do. At any age. BUT, that’s sort of the point. The question of age is worth considering, but IF this girl has already proven her compitance I’m not sure it’s as important as we think. I too immediatly thought of the little girl who died in an airplane crash, but 7 is an awful lot different than 13. No, her brain is not fully developed, but I’m not sure the ways in which they’re underdeveloped would handicap her on her trip. The question of strength is also important, but I cringe every time I see it. After all, a 13 year old boy is far stronger than a 13 year old girl, so would it be ok for him?

    I think the most relivant question in terms of her ability to make the trip is how she has handled herself in crisis situations, and how exposed she has been to danger.

    This is really not about whether she can accomplish the trip. It’s about whether her father should let her make it, and whether the government should step in. Her ability, compared to that of an adult, may not be relevant. The government currently has no ability to prevent an adult from doing something borderline suicidal, but a parent has the responsibility to prevent a CHILD from doing so, and the goverment, to step in if he does not fulfil that obligation.

    Only I sort of hope she succeeds in dodging the authorities. It’s not that I want her to put her life in danger, it’s just that the world is changed by insane people like this girl. What exactly is wrong with wanting to be the first or the youngest or the best? I do not want my children to believe that they have to wait until they are 18 to do anything worth doing. I think it’s irresponsibal of her father to allow this, but I WANT her to be able to try.

    Here’s a question for the masses: how young is too young to due for something you believe in? What if she were risking her life on something less frivolous than a sailing record?

  42. Meagan August 27, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    *to die for something you believe in.

  43. kbrum August 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm #

    Question : Tony Bullimore, Isabelle Autissier, Thiery Dubois : what was the cost of their rescues in the Southern Ocean again ? millions each time? All worn by Australian taxpayers?

  44. kbrum August 27, 2009 at 7:28 pm #

    p.s,. why should another country’s taxpayers have to wear the consequences of fools’ decisions? Once Laura can show she is capable of paying out the full cost of a rescue on theSouthern Ocean should she be allowed to sail.

  45. Geoff August 27, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    Jessica Watson is about to set sail on her own attempt to become the youngest person to sail around the world. She’s 16. (http://youngestround.blogspot.com/)

    I don’t consider that too young, but 13? Maybe. But don’t forget that historically most societies would have considered someone an adult at that age.

    That said, the desire to be the youngest person to do something is a bit immature anyway. To take such pride in an accident of timing?

  46. Marien (The Netherlands) August 27, 2009 at 9:33 pm #

    I follow the story of Laura in the Dutch newspapers with great interest. She confronts us with our adult basis in which we treat every child from only one point of view in what children should need. we denie the exceptional qualitys some kids already have at a young age.
    Laura is a highly qualified and already well experienced young sailor. On the age of thirteen years she already knows very well what she wants to reach in her life. I think she will learn more from life from this adventure than in school. I have read about the people behind Laura. It is a well planned travel in which she avoids the highly dangerous parts of the southern oceans. Moreover she is sailing on rather busy sailingroutes. Is there a risk? Of course there is a risk! But is it a bigger risk than other situations? I’m sure she won’t smoke pot when she is sailing aroud the world. I’m also quite sure she do’nt give a blowjob for a bacardi breezer on a schoolparty at her age (incident which happenend not so long ago in Amsterdam). I dont know the correct tranaslation in English’, (i’ll give it a try) but this Dutch quote illustrates what I want to say:
    Danger (or death) is never more away than one meter in your life.
    Learn to deal with it. Laura is to me an inspiring role model. She shows that kids are less vulnerable than adults often can accept. Kids are no parental project. They develop their own mind and own will. Let’s mirror them as adults and learn them to handle with danger en make your own choices.
    Laura made her choice and has choosen her mission, Well calculated and more wisely than many grown ups.

  47. MaeMae August 27, 2009 at 10:08 pm #

    I agree with Marien on one thing – the school issue. An earlier poster had asked what Laura would do about school. I feel as Marien does. Laura would definitely learn more on this trip than she would in school. The life lessons would far outweigh anything she could be taught in a classroom. That said, I still do not believe she should be able to go.

  48. pentamom August 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    “not protect them from parents that are going to let them do something that everyone knows they can do.”

    Something that everyone knows they can do? Assuming that the relevant people invovled have an accurate understanding of Laura’s capabilities, NO ONE can reliably sail around the world solo and survive. It is something that you cannot say with confidence that anyone “can do,” so the kind of thinking that says “We know she can do this” is perhaps the problem in the first place. We don’t know that she can do this. Most people can’t do this. People who thought they could do this, and with good reason, have died doing it. Did “everyone know” that Steve Fossett could make his last flight? Were they right?

    Whatever else Free Range is, I’m pretty sure that it’s not about turning a blind eye to statistically large risks of fatal outcomes, or about assuming that just because some child wants to do something really badly and has worked hard to be allowed to do it, it’s a good idea.

  49. Nicola August 28, 2009 at 2:07 am #

    No one said it was a good idea. But if you start preventing this type of thing from happening, you open the door for the government to start preventing other things from happening as well. Before you know it, kids won’t be able to do anything without parental supervision until they’re 18 years old… and that’s already well on it’s way to happening if you’ve learned anything from this site.

    Steve Fossett died, absolutely. He died doing something he loved due to freak conditions. Can it happen to this girl, absolutely. Should we stop her from going out there and doing it just because it can happen? Well, stranger abductions *can* happen too. Granted, the risk in this is much, much higher – and no, I don’t want to see kids go out and wantonly die – but at the same time I don’t want to see the government (any government) start eeking it’s fingers into things like this which will start making laws against other kids who want to get out on their own.

    This should not be a government issue. I’m sorry. MaeMae has made some great points on this and my favorite one is this:
    “Laura is to me an inspiring role model. She shows that kids are less vulnerable than adults often can accept. Kids are no parental project. They develop their own mind and own will. Let’s mirror them as adults and learn them to handle with danger en make your own choices.”

    She is willing to accept the risk she might die, just like Steve Fosset was. Government should not be involved in this. Period.

  50. mammatiamat August 28, 2009 at 2:39 am #

    When I was 13, I knew a girl who desperately wanted to get pregnant. In the USA, the risk of dying in childbirth, all other things being equal, is around 1 in 10,000. I wonder how that stacks up compared to sailing around the world, solo?

    What would you think of a 13 year old who felt since she had lots of babysitting experience and had always wanted to be a mother, she was ready to get pregnant and have a child of her own? And if she should not be allowed to “decide her own destiny” what’s different about the girl sailing around the world? And let’s not forget, only a few generations ago most women were married and mothers before 20, even before 18, and getting married and pregnant at 13 was not at all unheard of in many locales.

  51. MommyMitzi August 28, 2009 at 3:21 am #

    Someone else mentioned Tania Aebi and her amazing story of sailing around the world solo at age 18. The book about it called Maiden Voyage. I read it several years ago and it’s really stuck with me. I would be **very** interested to hear what Tania thinks of the 13 yr old’s quest, because even though Tania survived and even thrived during her adventure you never for one second think it was easy, or anything other than almost unbelievable that this young woman was attempting something so big on her own.

  52. Leonard Ewy August 28, 2009 at 4:03 am #

    I too have mixed feelings about this. I would need to know more about her sailing and navigating skills as well as how she has handled herself in previous crisis situations on the high seas. It reminds me of a recent event here in Colorado where a 12 year-old boy was killed after being thrown and stepped on by a bucking bull in a youth rodeo. Bull riding is dangerous no matter what one’s age and even though this was a sanctioned rodeo and the kid was a very good rider, he was killed. If it were my kid I would have had him just ride bucking horses for a few more years. The one refreshing thing about this tragic event was that the boy’s parents are not blaming anyone (except possibly themselves) and have declined to sue anyone.

  53. Nicola August 28, 2009 at 6:42 am #

    @mammatiamat: 13-year-olds wanting babies is really not anything new. There were many girls in my middle school (and even up into high school), who felt that need to be a mother. Some of them grew out of it. Some of them actually ended up getting pregnant. I suppose that’s all in how you are raised – the pregnant ones that I knew generally came from parents who had them around the same age, who tried telling them how bad boys were for them, and by forbidding them to be involved with boys at all, they jumped headlong into having sex with them. After all, without lockable iron pants, no parent will stop a young teen from having sex unless they’ve educated them on the reasons why they shouldn’t and that teen understands why they shouldn’t for their OWN reasons.

    It’s pretty much the way I feel about this girl. She is obviously educated on the rigors and dangers of sailing. What would you say about her if she ran away and sailed the world? What **could** you say?

    As I mentioned before, do I think it’s a good idea? No. Do I feel it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and dictate what this girl can do? No. Would I want my kids doing it? No. But – I don’t know this girl. I don’t know her family. I don’t know her abilities, I don’t know her strengths, I don’t even know how to sail. Her parents, however do know all of this about her. Her parents above all DO understand the risks and possibilities of what can happen that she might not be able to handle. I don’t think anyone here passing judgment on this girl has looked into the numbers on just how common it is for a mast to break or an ocean storm to sink a ship or anything like that – yet we’re doing exactly what all the parents of people who see a kidnapping on TV are doing – generalizing a fear into a reason why something shouldn’t happen.

    I say again with full conviction… you get the government in on something like this, you open the door for everything else behind it.

  54. Laura August 28, 2009 at 8:56 am #

    @Kenny: “In general, we consider it a Bad Thing to discriminate on the basis of sex, religion, ethnicity, age (of old people), and often on the basis of ability…but age (of young people) is always the exception. There, it’s perfectly acceptable.”

    Seriously??? Did you actually think about that statement before you wrote it? It’s not discrimination to take REASONABLE safety measures to protect your kids. Would I let my 2 year old drive my car because not allowing her to do so restricts her freedom and discriminates on age? In anything, you have to keep someone’s capabilities in mind. Saying a person can’t do something because they are of a certain race is entirely different than saying someone is too young for something. I agree with those who say look at the cost-benefit ratio. In this case, benefit does not outweigh the risk.

  55. BMS August 28, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    If I could read this story and feel that this girl wanted to do it, of her own will, just to have done it, I could get behind it.

    But if she is putting herself into a dangerous situation just to break some arbitrary record, or to please her father, or to become a media sensation, then someone should talk some sense into her, and her family.

  56. Steve August 28, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    Think of Laura Dekker as a child prodigy!

    She’s young, but has an unusual backround and she has the experience and skills for this trip. (She spent 7 weeks sailing alone at the age of 11.)

    When a child genius enrolls in college, there are dangers. When any child prodigy pursues his/her adult level interests, there are dangers. And I’m sure you can find people weighing in, pro and con, on what those children’s parents permit them to do.

    Look at this another way:

    When a terrible crime is committed by a minor, society often actually “requires” that child to be “tried as an adult.” – I personally don’t agree with that – that just because a crime is horrible we should forget it was perpetrated by a minor. But that’s what we do.

    In Laura Dekker’s case, we have a minor with an adult dream, a superior adult knowledge base of experience. Should she, in this special case, be treated as an adult?

  57. Will August 28, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    They said a woman could never beat men in single handed around the world sailing because they aren’t strong enough.

    Ellen MacArthur would disagree.
    So would Dee Caffari (and she did a route so difficult fewer people have done it successfully than have been to the moon!).

    You talk about seatbelts, car seats and helmets…
    …her parents would talk about Jacklines, EPIRBs, VHF radio, satellite phones and liferafts. It’s not like there are no safety features, just ones you may not be as familiar with.

    Laura Dekker has been sailing her whole life. As if to emphasise how much she’s been around boats – she was BORN on one.
    She has already done single-handed ocean passages – she was fine.
    Sailing as long as she has done she’s already a more experienced sailor than most sailors 2 and 3 times her age!

    This is nothing like driving cars. We don’t prevent kids from driving cars because they might hurt THEMSELVES but because they might hurt OTHERS! There’s noone for her to hurt out there but herself. She’s alone!
    And do you know what? That’s OK.

    On one hand we have an experienced and capable sailor who after proving her ability beyond ANY doubt on single handed ocean passages.
    On the other hand we have people who have NO experience of sailing saying she shouldn’t be allowed to go.
    We have people using the same non-starter arguments that were used against Ellen MacArthur and Dee Caffari.
    Even of the tiny minority of nay-sayers who HAVE sailed – the vast majority of them have never done so much as a single-handed day sail, let alone multi-day solo ocean crossings!

    Lenore, I really admire the approach you took with your son that day you became the “World’s Worst Mom”… considering the kind of people who gave you that label it’s a title you are rightly proud of! I fully intend to be a “bad” parent when I have the chance too!
    I have barely found a single word to disagree with you on ever since I found your blog after reading about “that” subway ride.

    However this case is different.
    You’re (harsh as this may sound) doing the exact thing you criticise the oppressive-protectors for doing.
    FOR THEM what you allowed your son to do, and encourage others to do is WAY too far. It’s BEYOND sensible boundaries.

    It is no different to Laura Dekker – in fact maybe even worse.
    In her case we have someone who we KNOW is a good and capable sailor, she has PROVEN that she’s more capable than 99% of sailors already. You’re suggesting she should be prevented from setting sail DESPITE the fact that she and her parents both feel she is ready for the responsibility.

    In the exact same way there were unknowns that Izzy faced on that subway ride and people said you were horrible irresponsible for allowing him to be exposed to them, there are unknowns that Laura faces… the unknowns are different… but whereas you dropped off a 9 year old kid in Manhattan, turned your back and went home (and good on you for doing it!) despite the fact he really hadn’t proven he was capable (you didn’t make him ride the cross town bus on his own before letting him go further and make him wait a few years)… you suggest we don’t allow the Dekkers the same freedom.

    Their daughter HAS proven capability on shorter passages. She HAS learned to navigate, to work on a boat and more besides – she’s massively more prepared for her trip than Izzy was for his.

    On this front there really isn’t any difference except one.

    YOU think this one is too far.

    Me and my cousins used to play at the “sand pit” up the road from their house (huge piles of sand and gravel which could – and sometimes did slip without warning and could – and possibly did if I recall correctly – bury people who died as a result) we used to walk for miles, crossing streams, huge expanses of sucking mud, tidal bays and more – all of which are known to kill people at a much higher rate than ocean sailing and do you know what? That was OK.

    Help might be way over 1600 (land-lubber) miles away at Point Nemo, but it’s no more usefully near than help would be if a child fell off a log and landed unconscious in a stream and drowned. It’s easy to let the numbers carry you away but in reality she faces the exact same risks as she faced when crossing the North Sea single-handed… it’s just slightly less likely they’d recover her body if she was knocked overboard unconscious in the Pacific than in the North Sea. And do you know what? Yep, you guessed it, that’s OK too.

    Fantastic site, wonderful philosophy – but, I think, way off base here (despite the existence of a few legitimate concerns with her voyage – none of which you’ve touched on).

  58. Laureen August 28, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    Laura was evaluated by shore-based non-circumnavigators and found to be unfit.

    If Ellen MacArthur and Tania Aebi had evaluated her, I’d buy it. Otherwise? Forget it. Trial by her peers, by people who’ve done it, by people who get it. There are legitimate concerns with her journey; let those be addressed. But her gender and her age are not amongst those.

    (oh, and my daughter was born on a boat as well.)

  59. Will August 29, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Ah hell!
    Just seen the news that the court’s granted shared custody to the child protection shower.

    I just learned that she’s been sailing solo for THREE YEARS – that’s more than Dee Caffari had been sailing solo for when she set out to sail around the world against the prevailing wind and tides – a feat managed by just FIVE people.

    I saw a video about the case and just the way Laura carries herself comes across as confident and mature. In fact, I find it hard to believe, looking at that, that she’s as young as 13!

    The people who’ve stopped her chasing her dream should be utterly ashamed of themselves. They won’t be, because they know better than everyone else, just like all the nutcase-experts knew better than Lenore Skenazy when it came to the boundaries for her kid.

    Oh and on another note – you can’t compare this with most of the famous circumnavigations as her route was specifically planned to avoid the worst conditions (i.e. the Southern Ocean).

    This is annoying.

    Poor girl.

  60. Will August 29, 2009 at 1:01 am #

    Oh and just to chime in with another point…

    People comparing her planned voyage with Zac Sunderland and with Mike Perham and with others are WAY off the mark.

    Both Perham and Sunderland went to the south of South Africa.
    That’s a brutal bit of sea.

    Dekker’s route as published on her website, even when read with my non-existant Dutch language reading clearly goes through the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. This circumnavigation, while a huge achievement, would not be in the same league as a circumnavigation via one or more of the great capes.

    She’s budgeting 2 years for the voyage SO she can avoid the worst weather, going round by the canals, not the capes – again nothing like Perham and Sunderland.

    This has annoyed me.

    And the worst thing about it?
    The goverment have stopped her because she won’t be locked up in a classroom being brainwashed instead of out in the real world learning the best way imaginable, under her own steam, her own way!

    The dishonesty of making out that they have her best interests at heart, her safety and so on is astounding. On one hand saying it’s about her and in the courts saying it’s about education!

    I just hope she can get away sooner rather than later.

  61. Crusader August 29, 2009 at 3:32 am #

    I think everyone is just envious that this girl is probably a super-woman at 13 and can circumnavigate the globe. Everyone should stop being busybodies and let her achieve her glory.

  62. K August 29, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    For the same reason that taking the subway alone seems phenomenally dangerous to us country bumpkins – sailing seems overly dangerous to land-lubbers.

    Especially with today’s technology – it is not what you are imagining. Capt. Cook took a crew, but also didn’t have good maps or a way of measuing longitude or any ways of seeing the weather ahead.

    For a great read – read “Dove” – the story of the young man that first took the record in the 70’s when he was 18.

  63. Marien ( the netherlands) August 29, 2009 at 6:16 am #

    In my opinion the goal of Laura, being the youngest solo globesailor is a non important goal. What does it mean? In fact nothing. Nevertheless I support her because the challenge to realize a goal you’ve choosen connected with your passion. It’s the ultimate experience to learn from life.
    Life is living dangerously. You have to learn to deal with it. When you are 13 years old or sixty. There is hardly a difference. Sail! well skilled Laura Sail! and show the world the inspirational power of young people.

  64. Justen August 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    Nyeh, I have mixed feelings about this. I really don’t know this 13-year-old. Maybe she’s advanced enough to be treated as an adult; I seriously doubt it, but I don’t know her. Certainly this wouldn’t be safe for anyone and is generally speaking a kind of crazy thing to do, but I do believe people have a right to take that risk. The real question hinges on: is this particular person cognizant of that risk and capable of adopting it? How can you or I say?

    I think the best route to take here is for the girl to try to gain emancipation. If she can prove herself a capable adult in court, certainly she can prove it anywhere. If she can’t, well, let the state take the boat away, not the child. As a last resort, let them put her under house arrest or curfew until she abandons the idea or successfully establishes her rights as an adult. Separating her from her parents is not the solution unless she’s being abused.

  65. Justen August 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    In review of some other posts on this thread I am much more convinced that this girl is ready. Let’s get the whole story here, and make sure we know what we’re talking about, before we go around advocating taking kids away. I don’t think I could let my son do this, but I’m no sailor. I’m a computer programmer.

    I’d definitely let my son do a lot of things with electronics many people think is crazy. I intend to let him at soldering irons, arc welders, the insides of equipment incredibly dangerous to the uninformed (monitors can *kill* you if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing). I intend to let him fiddle with all sorts of circuitry. I also intend to let him have complete free range on the internet. I’ll do all those things as soon as I’ve taught him everything he needs to know to do them with the same minimal risk as a trained adult, and no sooner (if he wants to do it at all, I’m not by any means forcing him to be a nerd like me). That’ll be my judgment call. This may be considered insane by people who don’t know electronics and the internet like I do, but it’s not their business.

    Likewise, I am not a sailor; clearly competent sailors can vouch for the competence of this girl, and I am in no place to contradict them. Let’s let the real experts make the call here, not ignorant busybodies.

  66. lonedattyof3 September 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    I have always lusted for the sea. I was sailing a 9 ft. sloop through the days of summer by myself in the small bay fronting my grandparents’ beach shack at Kawela Bay. When Robin Lee Graham stopped over in Honolulu in 1965 we were almost the same age (16). I was one of many at the Hawaii Yacht Club who shook his hand before he departed. I later read that he had been looking for someone to accompany him on his journey around the world. If I had known that at the time I met him, I would have jumped aboard with just the cloths on my back. It would have been quite a lesson, as it turns out that he had certain…issues…that would likely have dampened my enthusiasm. I suspect the Dekker family has issues as well but I do wish them well.

    I was also friends with Reid Griffith (OK, truth is, we got on each others’ 7-year old nerves), who completed three circumnavigations (all with parents and full crews) by the age of 21 when he died. For a long time I felt that Reid lived a fuller life in 21 years than I ever could in 60, but with 9 months to go, I know that’s crap.

    Bottom line: I sold my own boat and am happily land-locked (I also shun small planes, choppers, parachutes, bungi cables, and other rushes). I just can’t go out there now that I have young children who would miss me, and I’ll be damned if I am going to let my own kids go solo until they are old enough to legally decide for themselves.

    Be well, Laura–May you live to be 100!

  67. Elfir September 9, 2009 at 6:31 pm #


    I saw this article about a 16-year-old who wants to sail around the world this morning and had to check it wasn’t the same girl. Not by three years and quite a distance. ^_^

    Does this merit a followup? I’m not sure but it’s worth pointing out at least.

  68. Ben September 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    When Michael Perham and Seb Clover sailed across the Atlantic no one had a problem with it and I suspect that if Laura had not shown up in the media, no one would’ve cared. Yeah, sure there is a risk, but she’s enough of a competent sailor to attempt this.

    As for the reason she’s doing this. I can only guess. If she says it’s her dream I have no reason to doubt her. One thing I am sure of is that college applications are not in the picture. In contrast to the US, anyone can follow higher education in the Netherlands (although this could soon change with all the cutbacks thanks to the financial crisis). You don’t need to have a resume to get a good education.

  69. Ben September 17, 2009 at 6:14 pm #

    The school issue actually doesn’t exist. Laura still intends to follow lessons long distance by email and other technical methods. The minister of education immediately said she wouldn’t have the discipline to do that — without knowing her. Since sailing requires a lot of discipline I’m inclined to disagree. Besides, she plans to be on the seas for no longer than 3 weeks at a time. If her school work is lacking, she can be picked up in the next harbor if need be.

    There are plenty of methods of education. Just because she doesn’t want to be cooped up in a classroom doesn’t mean the other method is a bad one. Think of Iederwijs, correspondence schooling and homeschooling. All accepted by the Dutch government – unless you’re on a ship sailing around the world…

  70. William September 23, 2009 at 12:07 am #

    Ben – good post there.
    Well worded and to the point. I couldn’t agree more!

    She WILL be educated, (even without taking school work she’d be educated! – but that’s not the issue here), it seems the problem is she’s not being locked in a classroom and brainwashed. The extension then seems to be that she won’t have adult supervision.

    I still think anyone dedicated and able enough to single handed sail from the Netherlands to the UK and be picked up by police sat reading in a library and prevented from sailing home (for her own safety, of course, noone seemed to wonder how she got there if she was incapable) is more than ready to sail off in short hops on a circumnavigation that doesn’t get within thousands of miles of any of the great capes.

  71. William July 30, 2010 at 2:20 am #

    Wonderful news!
    I know many commenters and even Lenore probably disagree that it’s good news, but finally Laura Dekker is to be allowed to set sail.

    It still sickens me that she needed the court’s permission to go, that they ever got involved in the first place, and that the striped-coat wearing man from the Board of Child Protection still seems intent to stand in her way, saying they will “study the ruling” – but it looks like she’s just about all set.

    Apparently Laura’s mother has changed her mind and decided to give her permission for the voyage too which looks to have removed the restriction and let her go.

    In the snippet of the interview I saw on the BBC website she looked incredibly happy, if a tad awkward in front of the sea of microphones.

    Fair winds and a following sea, Laura!

  72. William August 5, 2010 at 8:40 am #

    …and she’s off!
    Good luck, Laura.

  73. car review September 9, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    As you probably know, 17 year old Zac Sunderland recently completed a solo trip around the world. There were times when he was in danger and was afraid he wouldn’t make it. If it was that dangerous & difficult for him, there’s very little chance she could make it safely.

  74. William September 9, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    And here we go again with completely inappropriate comparisons between Zac Sutherland and Laura Dekker.

    Zac circumnavigated via the great capes, quite a feat for anyone.
    Laura is circumnavigating via the canals (Panama and Suez) a far less demanding and dangerous route.

    Zac went around in just over a year leaving him less room to wait for ideal conditions.
    Laura is planning on taking two years meaning she can afford to wait for the right conditions and that is exactly what she plans to do.

    You might as well compare Mont Blanc with the Matterhorn or the north face of the Eiger as compare these two circumnavigation routes. They are both long and great achievements but to try and equate the two is, quite simply, nonsense.
    If you prefer, compare it with running a marathon with the elite runners and running a marathon somewhere near the back with the pub teams and people dressed as chickens.
    Worlds apart.

    She *still* grew up on boats and is a vastly more accomplished sailor at this tender age than Dee Caffari was when she set out to sail non-stop via the great capes going westabouts… a feat so unbelievably difficult that fewer people have achieved it than have been to the MOON.

  75. William September 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Bit of an omission there…
    …that should read “more accomplished SINGLE HANDED sailor”…
    …Caffari had a lot of sailing with crew under her belt when she took on the single handed voyage, but whereas she was pretty new to single handing when she set off, Dekker has been single handing for years.

  76. Scott October 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Here we are a couple years after Lenore’s post and this discussion is still going on!

    In the last two years Jessica Watson has become the youngest solo non stop circumnavigator, is a national hero in Australia, has received a personal apology from the Prime Minister, and has authored a #1 best selling book about her trip.

    Abby Sunderland made it more than halfway, was wrecked, rescued and now is fine. Same as are the likely chances with most adults who attempted the Southern Ocean at the same time.

    And now Laura Dekker is on her way, doing fine, and having a great time.

    I wonder if Lenore’s opinion on the matter has changed in light of the developments in recent years.

  77. Aky January 29, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    Oh come on, people! I’ve only read half the comments, but I’m disappointed in you. Surely I thought the point of this free-range movement was to give kinds the tools to become adults, let them do adult things, judge on basis of ability AND LET THEM MAKE THEIR OWN DAMN DECISIONS!

    Obviously, I’m wrong. Forgive me for misunderstanding, or for daring to think you people had moved beyond thinking that teenagers can only do what you deem appropriate.

  78. Bas March 19, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Eventually, she made it without mishap. While I’m certainly impressed with what she did, I’m still convinced the Dutch authorities were right to refuse her.



  1. How young is too young to sail alone around the world? « Sea-Fever blog - August 29, 2009

    […] an interesting conversation over at the Free Range Kids blog that you should check out if you are at all interested in this controversy. And from a slightly […]