At an age when most worry about an impending driving exam or what they’ll wear to junior prom, Laura Dekker has successfully and singlehandedly circumnavigated the entire planet, an extraordinary feat for which she will, undoubtedly and deservedly, be remembered. Her age, however, has become a point of contention for many critics, particularly those who criticize her parents, arguing that she’s far too young for such a monumental undertaking and undeserving of support.
While these critics raise a valid concern and probably have the best intentions, their apprehension is ultimately unfounded. As Dekker’s parents have vehemently maintained, their daughter has been sailing solo since the age of six, an impressive feat by anyone’s measure. When a person who possesses such remarkable experience and dedication to their craft, when she so confidently expresses interest in attempting such a feat as sailing around the entire world on their own, the only appropriate response is unwavering support, regardless of her age. Any efforts to quell such a noble desire only result in hardening resolve, particularly in one as ambitious as Laura Dekker, who marked this goal at the age of ten.
Critics should cease their constant examination and dismissal of Dekker’s youth and look solely at the objective facts. Born on a boat, she has over a decade of experience sailing solo. She has the backing and support of her loving parents. At the age of 12 she completed a journey from the Netherlands to Britain and back. Dekker has clearly already demonstrated a maturity and devotion indicative of someone many years her senior.
The open ocean is perilous and unending. At times, it can be seemingly limitless in its potential for hazard. Any mariner can tell you that, particularly one as experienced in the water as Dekker. Neither she nor her parents would allow such an enterprise if they weren’t completely aware of and prepared for all possibilities and probabilities. This isn’t a solo trek across the Sahara; this is a chartable journey with predictable hazards and avoidable dangers. In this age of incessant information and constant connection, there is no way Laura or the Dekkers would allow her to be completely incommunicado.
Sixteen is not that young, either. The previous title-holder, Jessica Watson, was barely seventeen upon completing her global voyage. The precedent has been set, and to deny someone less than a year younger a chance to compete is an exercise in arbitrary nitpicking. When examining a feat of strength, age shouldn’t be the primary deciding factor; it should be maturity and experience level.
Laura Dekker has said it time and time again: she’s not interested in fame, notoriety or money. This is evident in her denial of all major, lucrative interviews. She just wanted to sail and to accomplish something great.
Dekker should not be vilified for following her dream but celebrated. She traversed 27,000 miles in a 38-foot boat, battling crippling solitude and an ever-present possibility of inclement weather and hostile pirates. One can only hope this girl’s tale of unyielding perseverance in the face of adversity – not just from a vast and unforgiving ocean, but also from a frightened populace of fault-finders and detractors – inspires scores of other equally talented adolescents to chase their own dreams and their parents to support those dreams, no matter how seemingly inconceivable.