How did your daughter celebrate her 16th birthday?
Laura Dekker, a Dutch adventurer aspiring to become the youngest sailor to solo-circumnavigate the planet, spent hers preparing for what figures to be the most dangerous leg of her remarkable journey: crossing the Indian Ocean, which is notorious for unpredictable weather and, perhaps worse, pirates.
Dekker, whose controversial voyage began in August of 2010 from Gibraltar, has safely crossed the Atlantic and Pacific aboard her 38-foot sailboat, Guppy. She left Darwin, Australia, on Monday on a westerly course toward Africa. The Indian Ocean is her final hurdle and greatest challenge. Her team did not reveal her exact route because of concerns for her safety.
"We are all confident that the necessary precautions have been taken," said Dekker's manager, Lyall Mercer. "Laura is relaxed about the journey but we want to be wise and provide her with as much protection as possible."
While acts of piracy are most common off Somalia, on the African coast near the Gulf of Aden, they have occurred elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Zac Sunderland, who completed a 13-month solo-circumnavigation at 17 in July of 2009, was sailing in the same general direction as Dekker, toward Cocos Keeling Islands, when he encountered what seemed to be pirates investigating his presence.
They were aboard a large wooden boat that did not register on his radar screen. They did not answer calls on the radio as they approached, and they did not fly any national flags. Winds were light and swells large, so Sunderland could not escape. When the mysterious vessel crossed into the wake of his 36-foot sailboat, its crew remained hidden, and after a few tense minutes, the vessel veered off and away.
The vast and tumultuous Indian Ocean was not kind to any of Dekker's recent young predecessors. This includes Abby Sunderland, who at 16 endured days of large seas and harsh weather before her 40-foot sailboat, Wild Eyes, was rolled and damaged by a rogue wave, which prompted a lengthy and intense rescue effort.
Zac spent three harrowing days and nights in gale-force winds trying to repair loose rigging and prevent it from bashing a hole in his boat's hull.
England's Mike Perham and Australia's Jessica Watson also experienced long periods of severe weather while making the crossing.
Watson, who completed her nonstop circumnavigation days before turning 17 , is the youngest person to have sailed around the world alone.
Dekker, who has an extensive sailing background and was born on a yacht in New Zealand, has more than a year to take that distinction. But during the year-plus she has already been sailing, and enjoying long breaks in various exotic destinations, she has rarely thought about finishing with any kind of a record.
"I love what I do and that is my motivation," she said, before setting out from Darwin. "It feels really great to follow your dream and I'm happy to just do my thing."
Dekker celebrated her birthday with cake and donuts. Before departing she stated on on her blog: "It is not everyday that I have this many sweet treats under my nose but I believe I had a good reason to indulge and eat all I could."
-- Images of Laura Dekker and her vessel, Guppy, are courtesy of Laura Dekker