World’s Youngest Sailor Sets Sail Under the Sea Shepherd Flag
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder and President, Captain Paul Watson, along with Laurens de Groot, had a unique conversation around midnight on August 3, 2010 while driving north on Highway 405 from San Clemente to Los Angeles, California. It was early morning in the small Dutch harbor of Den Ostse in the Netherlands when Captain Watson called Laura Dekker—a 14-year-old sailor from the Netherlands—just as she was setting out with her 38-foot sailing yacht Guppy to begin her quest to be the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the globe solo.
Dekker was born on her parent’s sailing yacht off the coast of New Zealand. She has already crossed the North Sea solo at the age of thirteen. Two months ago, Dekker met with Sea Shepherd Netherlands Director Geert Vons and Laurens de Groot in the Sea Shepherd Amsterdam office. She asked if she could fly the Sea Shepherd flag and promote the efforts of Sea Shepherd during her voyage.
Vons, de Groot, and everyone else within Sea Shepherd Netherlands and Sea Shepherd International were immediately enthusiastic.
“I have always said that people should be willing to live their dreams and to be undeterred from pursuing their objectives,” said Captain Watson. “Laura fought the Dutch authorities in court and won. She was not going to let them tell her she could not follow her dreams. Sea Shepherd has always stood for the power of the individual to make a difference, to challenge the odds, and to boldly go where others have feared to venture.”
Dekker will initially sail to Portugal with her father and begin her solo voyage from there. Her first stop will be in the Canary Islands. She is also expected to stop in the Galapagos Islands, where Sea Shepherd Ecuador will organize a warm welcome for her.
Over 100 well-wishers gathered at the dockside of the southern Dutch harbour of Den Osse to wave goodbye to Dekker and her father. It was only last week, that Dekker won a bitter legal fight to overturn a child protection order that had placed her under the guardianship of social workers to stop her setting sail last year when she was thirteen. She has become a Dutch folk hero after rejecting, with parental support, claims by the child protection authorities that the long sea voyage would be too dangerous and damage her “emotional development.”
The teenager has also shrugged off warnings from NATO commanders about piracy off the Horn of Africa and hoisted the black Jolly Roger flag of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as she set sail.
“The oceans are in trouble, and the community that is best suited to defend biodiversity and marine habitats are the surfers, the scuba divers, the swimmers, and the sailors.” said Captain Watson. “I believe Laura will be a future leader in ocean conservation and this voyage will present her with the greatest educational experience possible—an intimate and thorough acquaintance with the sea and all her beauty, mystery, and challenges.”
“Bon voyage and behouden vaart, Laura,” added Captain Watson, “from the crew of all Sea Shepherd ships, as well as our directors, staff, volunteers and members.”