Dutch court extends custody 1 month for girl, 14, who wants to be youngest to sail world solo

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Court will keep supervising Dutch sailor, 14

AMSTERDAM — A 14-year-old Dutch girl who wants to become the youngest person to sail solo around the globe will remain under state supervision for another month, a court ruled Thursday, days after a California teenager was rescued during a similar attempt.

The decision by the court in the southern Dutch city of Middelburg meant another frustrating delay for Laura Dekker, who has gone into intense training to persuade the authorities she is capable of undertaking the risky venture.

Dekker was made a ward of the state last year after her plan to set sail aboard her small yacht raised concerns over her physical ability and her social development if she is isolated and out of school for months. She was then 13.

Child welfare authorities asked the court for a two-month extension of Dekker’s guardianship.

The dangers she would face were highlighted this week when a 16-year-old California girl, Abby Sunderland, ran into trouble on a solo attempt when powerful waves snapped her mast in the Indian Ocean, prompting a tense 20-hour rescue mission.

Sunderland was rescued two days after the alarm was raised, in a land and sea operation that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars — much of it borne by the Australian military who spotted her thousands of miles from the nearest land.

At a hearing Monday, Dekker’s lawyer Peter de Lange argued that she has been working to meet 14 conditions imposed by the court nine months ago.

She has obtained a first aid diploma, practiced functioning with a lack of sleep, and arranged to follow schoolwork via Internet, he said.

Last weekend she made a solo trip to England and back — 22 hours each way — to show her command of her small yacht and its seaworthiness.

Dekker’s father, with whom she lives, has approved of her attempt, while her mother has objected. The couple are separated.

Last December Dekker ran away from home and traveled alone to the Caribbean. Upset by court-imposed rules and with her grades slipping, she fled with about $5,000 to the Dutch territory of St. Maarten using her New Zealand passport. She was discovered and flew home several days later.

Under Dutch law, Dekker is considered a minor until she is 18 years old.

Last year’s ruling to put her under the guardianship of state authorities meant she could live at home but her parents must consult child protection authorities about all major decisions in her life.

The unofficial record as the youngest round-the-world sailor belongs to 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson, who completed her voyage in May.

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