If you’ve paid attention to European news during the last couple of days, you’ll have taken notice of 13-year-old Laura Dekker from the Netherlands who wants to take two years off from school and sail around the world. Perhaps people would just kind of coo and say something admiring, if she weren’t planning on doing it alone. Laura wants to beat the world record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the Earth solo. Her parents firmly support her wish. The Dutch government, however, has pointed out that she is obligated to attend school, since she is a minor, and has threatened to take her away from her parents. The enraged parents, in turn, have stated that if their home country attempts to prevent Laura from sailing, they will leave and go to New Zealand, where the girl was born (incidentally, on a boat).
Opinions are pretty much split down the middle. One half of all comments calls the parents idiots and unrealistic dreamers, point out how dangerous it is for someone that young to just gallavant off by themselves for two years, and more along those lines. The other half adopts the rather American attitude that individual freedom should weigh more than the supposed needs and wants of a government that should rather keep its nose out of people’s private business.
If I were a parent and this were my daughter, I’d be supportive too. But I’d also be scared. 13 is very young. Girls (and boys, for that matter) at that age are still children, no matter how mature or knowledgeable they may appear. However, I am not familiar with the rules and regulations of this kind of adventure. Perhaps “alone” wouldn’t really be “alone”. Laura would need supplies, for example. At some intervals, she would have to have contact with other people, seafarers or otherwise.
I’m not convinced that something like a solo trip around the world gets any less dangerous the older you get. Perhaps it also depends on the route you take, but as we know, Amelia Earhardt, Roald Amundsen and a host of other famous explorers disappeared, despite their experience.
It’s also not true that Laura would simply abandon school for two years. With the help of satellite connections, she apparently has developed a plan for remote instruction. So schooling and homework remain part of her life. She would not necessarily fall behind on anything. Here, it is merely the rigidity of the Dutch school system that is keeping her from a more flexible way of getting her education – somewhat ironic in a world that makes the demand of flexibility of adult employees.
Someone mentioned in a comment that rescue, should it become necessary, would be expensive. Who should pay for it? This somewhat caustically assumes that a teenager will most definitely get herself into trouble, whereas an adult (or an older teenager) would not. I’m quite certain that whatever insurance Laura’s parents have will have something to say about that, and that her parents, experienced sailors themselves, have considered this extensively. Whatever the cost would be, it would be the same for any other sailor in distress and is therefore, in my opinion, not an argument against this trip.
Despite all this, though, there are only two arguments for Laura’s cause: first, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, truly. She will never be 13 again, and the chance of beating this particular record will never come again for her. Second, sailing is in her blood. It is her passion. I believe that even with 24/7 supervision, taking her away from her parents and locking her up in a home will damage this girl or turn her into a juvenile delinquent.
Still, forming a valid opinion is nearly impossible. Of course, the media only represent the barest of facts in the case. No side is being argued out but in hints here and remarks there. The decision on what will happen to Laura is scheduled to be made tomorrow.