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Solo sailor stays in the dock -

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Solo sailor stays in the dock

Dina Rosendorff reported this story on Thursday, August 27, 2009 12:46:00

ELEANOR HALL: If you're young and you want to make a record-breaking attempt to sail around the
world join the queue.

Six weeks since American teenager Zac Sunderland overcame raging seas and a pirate scare to become
the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe.

Now an even younger challenger has come forward.

But 13-year-old Dutch sailor Laura Dekker is facing a legal battle to fulfil her dream, as Dina
Rosendorff reports.

DINA ROSENDORFF: Laura Dekker was born on a boat off the coast of New Zealand while her parents
were on a sailing trip around the world.

The 13-year-old Dutch teenager now wants to embark on her own marathon voyage.

But while the Dutch love their sailing the country's child protection authorities say she's too
young and want to put a halt to her record-breaking dreams.

The Dutch Council for Child Protection has applied to the District Court in Utrecht to be granted
temporary custody of Laura Dekker if her parents don't put a stop to her trip.

As for the young sailor herself, she can't quite see what the fuss is all about.

LAURA DEKKER (translated): I haven't even sailed a single metre yet.

REPORTER (translated): But today you had to stand before a judge. What do you think about that?

LAURA DEKKER (translated): It's all a bit exaggerated, but oh well.

DINA ROSENDORFF: The case has raised the ire of child psychologists in the normally liberal-minded
Netherlands who've warned that the two-year trip could hinder Laura Dekker's emotional development.

And in an editorial yesterday the Dutch daily De Volkskrant wrote that the young sailor was
unwittingly putting herself in significant danger and didn't have the experience to anticipate the
problems and possible crises that awaited her.

But her lawyer Peter de Lange says authorities should just let her chase her dreams in her
eight-metre boat called Guppy.

PETER DE LANGE (translated): The average maximum amount of time she will be sailing alone during
those two big crossings - the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean part - can be done in three weeks and
during the rest of the sailing trip she will be on land and all will depend on the winds and if it
is hurricane season and she will be on the mainland. So during this time she can study, have
contact with her parents or friends or acquaintances.

DINA ROSENDORFF: Laura Dekker joins a long line of junior global adventurers. Since Australia's
Jesse Martin sailed around the world solo in 1999 at the age of 18 plenty have been lining up to
break his record.

Most recently American teenager Zac Sunderland grabbed the youngest solo record last month when he
completed a 45,000 kilometre trip in just 13 months. He was forced to call Australian authorities
for backup when pirates started tracking him from Australia to the Cocos Islands.

And British sailor Mike Perham who is a just a few months younger than Sunderland is expected to
snatch that record away when he completes his own round-the-world voyage in the coming days,
docking in the southern English city of Portsmouth.

And Australia has its own Laura Dekker. Her name is Jessica Watson. She's 16 and she too wants to
sail around the world in her yacht, the Pink Lady.

Jessica's mum Julie Watson won't comment about the criticism surrounding Laura Dekker's case.

JULIE WATSON: We don't have enough information about that situation and that girl and I think that
you can do people injustice by not knowing what the full situation is.

DINA ROSENDORFF: But she's shrugged off criticism about her own daughter who plans to set off next
month.

JULIE WATSON: When you're familiar with the amount of experience Jessica's had and the preparation
she has done, most people are feeling a lot more comfortable with it. I guess a lot of the comments
are where people don't realise what things she has put in place and they are talking out of lack of
knowledge about what preparation she has done.

DINA ROSENDORFF: But John Morrissey is not convinced. He's a long-time secondary school teacher and
the spokesman for the Australian Family Association.

JOHN MORRISEY: This is early to mid-adolescence, a crucial stage in that it's an incredibly
important period in their lives. And being cut off from parents and peers and all sorts of other
social stimulus or interaction just seems to me quite crazy.

DINA ROSENDORFF: He wants Laura Dekker's parents to come to their senses.

JOHN MORRISEY: It's not often that I compare the Netherlands to Australia on social matters
advantageously but really I have a lot of sympathy with them on this case and that 13 is pushing
the envelope even more than the 16-year-old case in Australia.

DINA ROSENDORFF: A ruling on whether Laura Dekker will be allowed to sail into the record books is
expected by the end of the week.

ELEANOR HALL: Dina Rosendorff reporting.