Dutch world solo sailor too busy for school

RNW archive

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Solo yachtswoman Laura Dekker - who turned 16 today – has announced she has far too little time for school, much to the consternation of Dutch authorities, who had made her continued education a condition for her voyage around the world.

Laura – who aims to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the world single-handed - has been sailing for more than a year now. Her journey began in August 2010 when she set off from Gibraltar. She crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and her boat, Guppy, is now docked in Darwin in Australia, where she gave her first interview in months.

No time
The teenage sailor said she just doesn’t have the time for her school work.

“I crossed the Pacific quite fast. So, then you’re only docked somewhere for a week. But you need that week for clearing customs, replenishing water and diesel supplies and carrying out repairs. So, before you know it, you’re at sea again. At first, I spent quite a good deal of time at my school work, but not anymore.”

When Laura first announced the plans of her voyage in 2009, Dutch authorities intervened and said she should first finish school. The child welfare authorities brought the case to court and the judge ruled that the 13-year-old was too young to travel alone. Laura then ran away and took a plane to the Caribbean island of St Martin, where she was arrested and sent back to the Netherlands.

Education a condition
Finally last July, a judge gave her permission to carry out her plans - provided she conformed to a number of conditions, including continuing her secondary school education through an online teaching programme set up for Dutch-speaking children abroad.

“The boat is more important for now,” said Laura, “I’m focusing on the getting the boat ready and setting off.” In a reaction on Twitter, a representative of her management team said Laura was not going to abandon her school work altogether, but will continue to study, "although her voyage is a wonderful life lesson."

The compulsory school attendance authority is not happy but says it is now powerless to intervene, because last July the judge ruled that Laura’s education is the responsibility of her parents. And Laura is no longer registered in the Netherlands - she was born on her parents' yacht in a New Zealand port - so Dutch law no longer applies in any case.

Pirate waters
Next week, Laura will have to decide if she is going to stay clear of the dangerous waters off Somalia – beleaguered with pirates – when she sets off in the direction of Europe, or whether she’ll take the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.