Is Laura Dekker really sailing around the world?
The latest news, announced by the 15-year-old Dutch adventurer via her blog, is that she'll fly from the Caribbean to The Netherlands for a boat show that runs March 1-6; and that she has been "working hard on my book about my journey."
Nothing against any of this, but so far her journey has not resembled a dedicated solo-circumnavigation attempt. She has spent far more time at port than she has at sea, and since embarking from Gibraltar last August her only significant milestone is a relatively short and uneventful crossing of the Atlantic.
Dekker made that crossing from Cape Verde, an archipelago 350 miles west of Africa. Previously she had spent three months at the Canary Islands, waiting out the Atlantic hurricane season. She has been vacationing in the Caribbean -- she's presently at the Dutch island of Bonaire, enjoying a visit from her grandparents -- since mid-December.
At this rate she'll make Zac Sunderland's 13-month solo-circumnavigation, a multi-stop odyssey he completed in July of 2009 at age 17, look like a sprint.
Not that there's anything wrong with this. Dekker, who's attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone, is not in a race against time. She won't turn 16 until late September.
Australia's Jessica Watson, who is currently the youngest to have solo-circumnavigated the planet in a sailboat, completed her amazing nonstop journey just before turning 17. So Dekker has about 19 months to get around the planet and earn the distinction of being the youngest.
To be sure, she should not be in a hurry because she is so young. She's still developing physically and will need all the strength and maturity she can gather when she attempts to cross the Pacific and Indian oceans.
But are these long layovers -- during which she's snorkeling, riding bikes, playing guitar, exploring islands and presumably keeping up with schoolwork -- making her soft?
Sunderland, who sailed a westerly course that is similar in some respects to the route Dekker has planned, got hammered by ferocious storms in both of those oceans. At one point he spent three sleepless days and nights enduring gale-force winds in the Indian Ocean, trying to repair loose fore rigging that threatened to bash a hole in his bow.
He was chased ashore in Mexico by an eastern Pacific hurricane, after his mast-supporting bulkhead had cracked in rough seas.
Dekker has not endured any hard times at sea yet, and she won't as long as she's camped in the Caribbean aboard a her 38-foot boat, named Guppy.
It's not clear exactly when she'll pass through the Panama Canal and begin to take on the vast Pacific, but when that occurs it probably will mark the beginning of the first truly compelling chapter of her book.
-- Pete Thomas
Photo of Laura Dekker is from her website