Courageous Laura, 16, braves Cape of Storms

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ct Laura Dekker_5396 (21186517) INLSA Laura Dekker, 16 attempting to become the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. Photo: Candice Chaplin

Caryn Dolley

A DUTCH teenager, attempting to become the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe, arrived in Cape Town in winds gusting at up to 50 knots and rough seas that deterred even seasoned skippers.

Yesterday, day 463 of her odyssey, Laura Dekker, 16, spoke from the V&A Waterfront where she was briefly docked. She described sailing in the stormy weather as “being on a rollercoaster that’s underwater”.

Local businessman Alon Kowen, a seasoned skipper who sailed to welcome Laura at sea and met her off Llandudno, said the weather had been awful.

“Not even the most seasoned skipper will round Cape Point in winds like that. She’s a very brave girl,” he said.

Laura, who had been sailing from Port Elizabeth for three days, rounded Cape Point shortly after midnight in winds of up to 50 knots.

She was soaked through, with waves continually crashing over her 38-foot yacht, Guppy. She arrived in Cape Town Harbour hours later and docked at the Waterfront around 9am.

“One of the first things I’m going to do is clean up my boat. It looks like a house hit by an earthquake, but with lots of water,” she said.

Laura was 14 when she set out on her solo voyage, something she said she had longed to do, from Gibraltar on August 21 last year.

So far the seafaring schoolgirl has needed no rescuing.

“I’m doing this for myself. At first, I had moments when I thought: ‘What am I doing here?’ But now it’s okay.

“I don’t really get lonely. I’ve got radio contact … At times it’s confining because it’s a small yacht and after three weeks, you really want to run.”

One of the more gruelling passages of the journey was from Darwin in Australia to Durban – a voyage that took 47 days at sea.

Laura said that, during the voyage, she had seen sharks,

whales and dolphins around her yacht.

“Down here, I saw some whales. One time, I had two sharks passing right behind the boat. I mostly see the fins. I’m not scared. It’s not like I’m planning to jump over,” Laura joked.

Now that she was back on land, she longs to eat fresh vegetables and food as she does not have a refrigerator on her yacht.

She has been eating mostly spaghetti and rice.

“I also want fresh water. I don’t have a lot on the yacht and I don’t waste it on showering … After the first wave hits, I get really salty. In the beginning, it was so itchy.”

The schoolgirl has school books on board so she can keep up to date with her studies.

The schooling issue and her age initially led Dutch authorities to try to prevent her from undertaking the solo voyage, but a Dutch court eventually permitted her to do so.

Laura said she wanted to do the voyage while she was young and agile, and could fully enjoy it.

Yesterday, her father, Dick Dekker, also a sailor and from a family of seafarers, was in Cape Town to see his daughter for the second time during her epic voyage.

“She’s doing it all on her own. I’m so proud, but also a bit scared,” he said.

Laura was not sure how long she would remain in Cape Town before setting off for the Caribbean.

She was expected to finish her voyage within months.

She said that after this odyssey, she hoped to sail around the world again, spending more time at each destination.

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Willlem, wrote

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12:12pm on 5 December 2011
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Quite right, Marjolein, the Netherlands has become a country with absolute state control over the lives of citizens. This drove Laura to absolute despair, and only after she had attempted to commit suicide because she was not allowed to sail, the authorities gave up (worried about drawing international criticism to their actions) and let her go. There were numerous reports about this in the Dutch newspapers and on television, but now the national press has been effectively silenced and will not report on Laura anymore. It is just a matter of time before her site (www.lauradekker.nl) will be blocked by the Dutch authorities.

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Thomas, wrote

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10:10pm on 29 November 2011
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ZEILMEISJE LAURA DEKKER on FACEBOOK http:www.facebook.compagesZeilmeisje-Laura-Dekker129715607107698

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Marjolein, wrote

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09:57pm on 29 November 2011
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I think Laura is taking the right decision to leave Holland. Our country is ruled by bureaucrates who try to oppress people like Laura. She gets no attention from Dutch television because the government forbids it. She build the boat herself and does everything alone, so she is my hero! I have send her donations and lots of other people send her money, too, because she is worth it. I would also like to leave this country, but with all the regulations it is just not possible to leave from here.

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Michael, wrote

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04:04pm on 29 November 2011
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It may be interesting to note that Laura no longer considers herself to be Dutch, but regards herself a citizen of New Zealand. Reason for this is the way she felt treated by the Dutch childcare authorities, who refused to give her permission to leave school when she was fourteen, and insisted she complete her schooling first. This has upset Laura so much that she has no intention of ever returning to the Netherlands. She was born in New Zealand when her parents where on a sailing trip there and spent the first couple of months on NZ territory. She holds a NZ passport and has indicated a number of times that it is her intention to relocate to that part of the world. So far the NZ authorities have been less than welcoming about htis plan, since there are concerns about cost of living and housing, as neither Laura nor her parents have any financial means. Also, since she is still under age, a guardian will have to be appointed. Laura remains unperturbed and seems decided on settling in New Zealand, possibly with financial backing from the same persons who paid for her voyage.

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Theo Prinse, wrote

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11:48am on 29 November 2011
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Congratulations from Zeeland the Netherlands Laura. Have a great voyage !

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Zack, wrote

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05:13am on 29 November 2011
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Crossing the Indian Ocean and rounding Agulhas alone is quite a feat. Congratulations to Laura for having a dream and making it happen. Perhaps this is becoming obvious, but in addition to courage and commitment, Laura is an exceptionally skilled and talented sailor. Her passage times are very impressive; she often beats bigger,"faster" boats port-to-port due to her exceptional sailing prowess.

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Peter, wrote

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11:44pm on 28 November 2011
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Congratulations to Laura! She's not there yet, but she already has the three oceans and the Cape behind her. Thanks to Alon Kowen for supporting her on those difficult last miles. Thanks to Cape Times & Caryn Dolley for giving her the attention she deserves.

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Anonymous, wrote

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11:18pm on 28 November 2011
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Laura's website is here http:www.lauradekker.nlEnglishHome.html. Follow Laura in her weblog and leave a message in her guestbook.

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