Just when you thought all the teen solo silliness might be over, just when you started to think you might not be hearing about the Sunderlands for a while (how can they NOT have a reality TV show?), Zac Sunderland goes ahead and gets himself arrested. Hopefully, that won’t be grist for another round of armchair moralizing over teenage judgment, and its suitability for round-the-world sailing. Instead, let’s turn our attention on the newest teen solo sailor bidding for youthful glory on the high seas. Yep, Dutch teen Laura Dekker, the youngest of the young ‘uns at 14, has now set sail after receiving permission from a Dutch court (and people say America is run by lawyers).
Laura is arriving in Lisbon, sailing with her father so he can help eradicate any ghosts in the (sailing) machine (vid here). From there, she will depart Lisbon on her own, aiming to lower the ancient (she’s now 17) Jessica Watson’s youngest-ever record. Laura’s website is still a work in progress, and already she’s had to turn off her “Guestbook” thanks to a barrage of obnoxious comments. The plan for her voyage seems a lot more cautious—and suitable—than her ambitious predecessors. It includes 27 stops, and will avoid both Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope (opting for Suez instead). So the danger of the Southern Ocean has been traded for the danger of pirates in the Arabian and Red Seas. That’s not such an obvious trade, methinks.
In any case, her boat, a Jeanneau GinnFizz ketch, seems perfectly suited for girdling the globe (and a teenager; as opposed, say, to Sunderland’s Open 40). It’s 38-feet long, with a fat, solid beam of 12.5 feet. It’s a lot of boat, maybe even too much boat for a young sailor, but it will be nice to have the stability and multiple sail configurations. She sailed “Guppy” to England solo after turning 13, which her father secretly hoped would cure her of her global dream. But it had the opposite effect. Hey, she’s a teenager.
So now we will track another young girl around the world’s oceans, hoping nothing bad happens. Even if she succeeds (there’s a nice chart of her predecessors on her Wikipedia page), in my book she won’t really have taken anything away from the amazing Jessica Watson, who sailed solo, non-stop, and unassisted. She is now reaping her deserved rewards, with her book “True Spirit” hitting Number 1 in Australia (but I still won’t read it!).
Instead, if Laura Dekker succeeds, the hard question will be for all those indulgent parents out there who will have a 12 or 13-year old who will look at her and say: “Hey, I can do that.” The problem with this Youngest Ever game is that the lower age bound will only be set by someone dying (former Youngest Ever RTW solo sailor Mike Perham is even taking the game to a new field: flying around the world solo. So with every progressively younger sailor that sets out the roulette wheel is set spinning anew. And each time the house’s odds get stacked that little bit more against the sailor. We don’t know yet who will lose. But someone will—eventually.