Huffpost WorldPost

Dutch delay 13-year-old sailor's worldwide trip

Posted: Updated:

UTRECHT, Netherlands — A 13-year-old girl's plan to sail solo around the world was called "undeniably daring and risky" by Dutch judges Friday. They refused, however, to scrap the venture in a high-profile clash between child care authorities and liberal Dutch parenting.

The three judges at Utrecht District court ordered authorities to take temporary guardianship of Laura Dekker, delaying her plan to set sail next week on her 26-foot yacht Guppy in her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe.

"I wouldn't go if I or my boat wasn't up to it," Laura told Dutch national broadcaster NOS."So things have stayed the same, except it is going to take a little longer."

The court appointed a child psychologist to report on her capacity to cope with the risks and possible harm of two years of isolation.

The ruling came a day after 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain grabbed the crown Laura covets. After crossing the finish line, the teenage sailor listed some of the physical skills Laura will need to complete her trip.

"It's whether she's got the physical strength, the mental strength and the technical ability," he said. "You know, can she strip an engine blindfolded? You know, can she build boats? Is she an electrician? Is she a mechanic as well? Because you can't just be a sailor to do a trip like this."

The Utrecht court will make a final decision in Dekker's case on Oct. 26.

Laura ignored the legal storm swirling around her and took advantage of fresh winds whipping across the Netherlands Friday to – what else? – go sailing.

Her lawyer, Peter de Lange, said friends told her about the court's decision and "she accepted it very positively."

He said that if Laura gets the green light in two months her record bid would still be on track, although she may have to take her boat to Portugal to avoid autumn storms that regularly lash the Bay of Biscay.

De Lange likened Laura's quest to the "Dutch East India Company mentality," a reference to the trading company whose ships plied the world's oceans in the 17th and 18th centuries, an era considered the Golden Age of Dutch sea travel and still a source of national pride.

While the judges ordered child care workers to take responsibility for Laura, they stopped short of removing her from her father's home. They acknowledged he had tried to stop the trip and then to make it as safe as possible.

"This case is about whether the government ... can restrict the broad freedom parents have in bringing up and caring for their children," presiding judge M. Oostendorp said. She added the court does not believe the father can be "accused of serious neglect."

But Professor Micha de Winter, a child psychologist at Utrecht University, warned that Laura's parents are underestimating the impact of two years alone at sea on a 13-year-old girl as she matures physically and emotionally. He said the court had taken a "wise decision" in ordering a psychologist's report.

"It's a big risk and an experiment with a child in which you don't know what the result could be," he said.

Richard Bakker, spokesman for the Council for Child Protection, welcomed the ruling.

"We are satisfied with this decision," he said, appealing to the father "to cooperate with the investigation and ensure Laura's safety."

Laura's father, Dick Dekker, was in court for Friday's decision but did not speak to reporters. He is divorced from Laura's mother, who has made no public comment.

Laura was born on a boat in New Zealand and spent the first four years of her life sailing the world with her parents. She also spends her holidays sailing off the Dutch coast. In May, British authorities briefly detained her after she arrived alone in the eastern port of Lowestoft and said she planned to sail home alone, De Lange said.

De Winter, who is not involved in the case, said children need parents and peers around them as they mature.

Authorities "have to look at the development risks for the child," he told The Associated Press.

Perham sailed into record books as the world's youngest round-the-world solo sailor by covering 28,000 miles in just nine months before crossing the finish line Thursday off the coast of Cornwall in England. A celebration was planned for his arrival Saturday in Portsmouth, England.

Perham is a few months younger than Zac Sunderland, of Thousand Oaks, Calif. He claimed the youngest solo crown in July when he completed a similar trip in 13 months.

Perham's boat, a 50-foot racing yacht called Totallymoney.com in honor of his sponsor, is much larger than Laura's. He also had significant seafaring adventures at a tender age.

"Thirteen is a young, young age," he said Thursday. "But then I sailed across the Atlantic on my own when I was 14 and if I could do that when I was 14 then in theory she could do it when she was 13. But, yes, for me age is only a number."