Being a sailing fan is an intense and rewarding experience these days. So much to watch. So much to enjoy. We’ve had the Rolex Fastnet, Extreme Sailing Series speed and carnage, and the America’s Cup World Series at Cascais, with Plymouth on the way. We’ve had Audi MedCup. The Global Ocean Race is a month away, and the Volvo is a month after that. Here’s one story that I am very happy HAS NOT been prominent on the sailing radar screen, to be chewed over, debated, and hyped to death: Dutch teen sailor Laura Dekker’s steadily progressing solo tour of the world.
She might Skype a lot, but she’s still alone.
It wasn’t that long ago that the sailing world was obsessed with the ambitions, preparedness, and parental strategies associated with Jessica Watson, Abby Sunderland, and the teen boys (Zac Sunderland and Mike Perham). So when then-14 year old Laura Dekker started making noises about a solo voyage, too, and got held up by a Dutch court before finally be allowed to go sailing, it seemed as if we were in for another round of kiddie craziness. Except a funny thing happened on the way to the brouhaha. Laura Dekker quietly showed she is a competent, solid, sailor. With her father’s help, she and her boat Guppy are well-prepared. And, most importantly, she has made her way across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and across the Pacific to Darwin, Australia, without drama or disaster, and seems more interested in the amazing experience of sailing westabout around the world than she is in setting a record.
In other words, this is a voyage that’s easy to applaud. No pushy, spotlight-happy, parents. No slick, conniving PR managers, angling for a big score. Sure, she is getting plenty of media attention, someone is making a film, and maybe she will end up on some version of Dancing With the Stars. But if you read her blog, what you see is a cheerful, determined, resourceful kid having an adventure that will change her life in untold ways. Her father’s faith in her ability to pull this thing off seems justified, or at least reasonable. That doesn’t mean that something terrible won’t happen. But if it does, it will happen because bad things can happen anytime someone goes to sea, not because she is a teenager.
_How many of us wish we had a slideshow like this from our teen years? (And how awesome is the Dutch version of “Piano Man”? -Ed.)
She still has a long way to go to get back to the Atlantic and close the circle on her voyage. And she’s been honest about the tough times she has had so far, rating the crossing from Bora Bora to Tonga—where she had no wind, or tons of wind, got sick, and faced nasty seas—as her worst (she rated the Vanuatu to Darwin leg second most difficult, and the Atlantic crossing third). But she is about to turn sixteen, and she doesn’t seem in a huge rush to move on as long as there is something fun and interesting happening ashore. If nothing goes wrong, she will probably complete her circumnavigation before she turns 17, which would in fact make her the youngest ever. The beauty of it is I don’t think she will really care that much. She set out to do something very different than Abby Sunderland and Jessica Watson, who made pure record attempts (and non-stop is a completely different animal). And what Dekker’s voyage has truly been about is perfectly summed up in a recent blog entry: “The days just fly by, and I haven’t had time to be bored, not even for one second.” Too bad more teens don’t live, and talk, like that.