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Archive for Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dutch police seek to explain young sailor’s trip

December 22, 2009

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— Her dream of becoming the youngest person to sail solo around the world shattered and under scrutiny over her quest, Dutch teenager Laura Dekker ran away from home — to the Caribbean 5,000 miles away.

Two days after she was reported missing, police managed to track the 14-year-old girl down on the island of St. Maarten.

Police and child care authorities were working Monday to uncover how exactly Laura got there and why she fled, as a family spokeswoman speculated that the pressure of a court battle over the attempt had gotten to her.

St. Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson said Dekker arrived on the island Thursday from Paris.

She flew out Monday dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. She was carrying several bags, a small suitcase and a guitar.

It remained unclear whether she had any plans to use the island, half of which is part of the Netherlands Antilles, as a starting point for a sailing voyage.

She made international headlines in August when a court temporarily blocked her bid to set sail alone around the world in her 26-foot yacht Guppy.

If Laura were to get permission to set off on the voyage and successfully complete it, she would break a record set this year by 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain, who sailed 28,000 miles around the world in nine months.

A 16-year-old Australian girl, Jessica Watson, is currently trying to beat Perham’s record.

Utrecht District Court ruled in October that Laura was too inexperienced for the marathon voyage. Judges sent her home to live with her divorced father and appointed a temporary guardian to ensure she did not set off on the voyage. They urged her to make better preparations and said they would reconsider her case in July.

Laura was born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world. She is widely acknowledged — even by the judges — to be an excellent sailor.

Her parents have since divorced, and Laura lives with her father, who is seen as a driving force behind her sailing plan. Instead of calling authorities when she went missing, her father called her mother who in turn informed police on Friday. She was spotted and detained on St. Maarten on Sunday.

Laura’s mother has remained largely out of the picture, but she has said she considered her daughter too young to make the round-the-world trip.

Laura was expected to arrive back in the Netherlands on a flight early today, police spokesman Bernhard Jens said. Police will then ask her how she managed to slip out of the country last week and whether anybody helped her.

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