Youngest Solo Circumnavigation – Teens With a Dream!

Three teenage girls had a dream… a dream so big it burnt inside of them and could not be denied! It could not be stopped!

The courts of the land could not kill the dream, they tried, a big container ship could not plough down the dream… being dis-masted in wild seas and being adrift on the ocean could not discourage the dream!

Parents were criticized and attacked for allowing… even encouraging and supporting their dream! The media questioned their dream… too young, too risky and irresponsible… the people of the world had mixed opinions!

These three teenage girls came from different parts of the world, from Australia, Holland and California, USA, the one thing they had in common was they all had the same dream.

What Was Their Dream?

To sail solo around the world, circumnavigate the globe! This is a massive voyage even for a fully crewed yacht but these were teenage girls planning to circumnavigate the world alone.

Two of these girls wanted to sail solo non-stop and one of the girls wanted to stop and explore some of the amazing countries and cultures this planet has to offer. What are their stories?

Jessica and Her Solo Circumnavigation:

Jessica Watson:

Jessica had sailed racing dinghies since the age of eight and was dreaming about the solo trip by the age of eleven. She read books by people who’ve done it and how they coped… like Kay Cottee and Jesse Martin two solo circumnavigation. This fueled her dream!

After convincing mum and dad and showing her determination and competence she started preparing mentally for this epic voyage determined to go. Part of that was talking to a sports psychologist being alone at sea for an extended time is not something you can practice but she prepared the best way she could.

Unlike a lot of solo travelers before her technology is very advanced now and she had access to the Internet and webcam to communicate along with a lot of other equipment to make it easier and safer. There was also a good land crew with support and high tech information.

Her yacht was an S&S 34ft the same as Jesse Martin sailed to make his history making solo sail round the world at the age of 17 years. Her plan to follow the rules of a true circumnavigation was starting in Brisbane, then sailing northeast across the equator to Washington Island in the North Pacific, around Cape Horn below South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean and finally up the east coast of Australia back to Brisbane. This covers around 23,000 nautical miles and takes approximately 230 days.

All was not smooth sailing! On her trial run before her attempt round the world… she failed to detect a 64,000 tonne cargo ship on her radar. It was her 1st night out at sea and she had only just gone to sleep when she collided with the ship. Her yacht Pink Lady was dis-masted and badly damaged.

There was a big outcry saying she should not proceed with her planned solo circumnavigation and a lot of discouragement from different sources including the media.

Did Jessica hesitate and look at giving up her dream… no way at 16 years she became the youngest person to sail solo unassisted and non-stop around the world. She earned the record and in May 2010 sailed into Sydney, Australia, welcomed by a massive crowd on the foreshores and in the water. She was triumphant… I watched on TV and shed tears of happiness and pride for this teenage girl!

Jessica said ‘she was just an ordinary girl who had a dream!’

Teenage Girl with Determination!

Laura Dekka:

A 14 year old girl stood before the courts in the Netherlands in the midst of a yearlong battle with Dutch authorities that sparked a global media storm. Youth Care and other government organisations were involved in the first court case, in August 2009, they asked the judge to take her away from her father and to lock her up in a secure clinic. She was put under the guardianship of the Dutch protection agencies!

Why? Was she a delinquent child… trouble maker… committed a crime?

Laura’s crime was she had a dream and she was determined to fulfill it! Her dream being to sail solo round the world! The courts argued that she was too young to look after herself at sea! She finally won her battle with the courts in July 2010 and set sail from St Maarten on 20 January 2011.

Laura was born on a yacht near the coast of New Zealand to sailing parents who lived aboard a sailboat and first sailed solo at six years old. Friends have described her as an intelligent, independent and disciplined girl. She dreamt of crossing the globe from the age of 10.

Laura fulfilled her dream aboard her 38ft sailboat Guppy exploring the world in search of freedom and adventure. Unlike other teen sailors she anchored at ports along the way to sleep and study and repair her sailboat. She explored locations including the Canary Islands, Panama, Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, Australia and South Africa. She went surfing, scuba diving and discovering and meeting lots of new friends along the way.

Laura said, “There were moments where I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ but I never wanted to stop,” she told reporters after struggling against high seas and heavy winds off Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it!”

She celebrated her 16th birthday during the trip, eating doughnuts for breakfast after spending time at port with her father and friends in Darwin, Australia.

“Laura has tremendous willpower and ambition,” said lawyer Peter de Lange, who advised Laura and her father, “Her wish to do this was something that came from her heart and soul and no one was going to stop her.”

Laura sailed into the harbor at the St Maarten yacht club late on Saturday night, a year and a day since starting her epic voyage, aged 16 years; she was met by crowds of well-wishers! She had fulfilled her dream of a solo circumnavigation!

Laura set sail two months after Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old American sailor who was rescued in the middle of the Indian Ocean during a similar attempt. Jessica Watson of Australia completed her solo voyage at 16, a few months older than Laura Dekker. The difference was her voyage was nonstop and unassisted.

Another Teenage Girl with a Dream!

Abby Sunderland:

An emergency beacon signal was picked up halfway between South Africa and Australia it was that of Abby Sunderland a 16 year old girl on her yacht ‘Wild Eyes’ who was half way round the world on a solo circumnavigation attempt. She had been on the satellite phone to family when it went dead in a wild storm tossing her 40ft yacht around in 30 foot swells.

Thankfully she was rescued from the Indian Ocean midst big debates on the wisdom of teenagers making dangerous journeys such as this.

Michael Kalim of a San Francisco Yacht Club told the press, “It’s not something that a 16-year-old should be able to decide whether they’re capable of doing it. It’s potentially irresponsible for the parents.”

Her father’s response to this avalanche of criticism was “I never questioned my decision in letting her go. In this day and age we get overprotective with our children,” Laurence Sunderland continued, “Look at how many teenagers die in cars every year. Should we let teenagers drive cars? I think it’d be silly if we didn’t.”

Abby was successful in rounded the southern tip of South America but later had equipment problems and had to stop for repairs in South Africa. She decided to continue with her round-the-world voyage anyway and had just reached the halfway point when her boat succumbed to the severe weather conditions which caused her to set off the emergency beacon and was ultimately rescued.

Laurence Sunderland, her father is a shipwright, and said his daughter had thousands of miles of solo sailing experience before she set out and he had scrutinized her skills.

He said: “This was not a flippant decision. Abigail’s been raised on the ocean all her life. She’s lived over half her life on yachts. This is like second nature to Abigail.”

He said the team of experts that worked on Wild Eyes and the circumnavigation project were “second to none.” The boat had already been around the world and was equipped with sophisticated communications systems, navigation systems and backup systems.”

What was Abby’s response to this media ‘shit storm?’ “It wasn’t the time of year it was just a Southern Ocean storm. Storms are part of the deal when you set out to sail around the world. As for age, since when does age create gigantic waves and storms?”

She told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “I’m definitely going to sail around the world again or really give it another try. I’ve wanted to sail around the world for years and am definitely going to do it sometime.” She may have left behind a broken boat, but her determination is still intact! Abby was following the achievement of her brother, Zac, who successfully made the solo journey around the world at the age of 17.

In Summary!

Sailing and life in general is dangerous! I have solo sailed… only coastal in my 40’s and onward and have at times been in situations where I have questioned what I was doing and at times my judgment. My age made no difference and neither did my experience. For me fatigue at times played havoc with my judgment. So we may all have our opinions on the aspect of age and experience. I for one believe in following your dreams!