14-year old Dutch sailor goes missing, turns up in St. Maartin

Remember Laura Dekker? She’s the young Dutch girl who made headlines last summer for wanting to sail solo around the world at the age of 13, only to later be denied the opportunity by the Dutch government. At that time, it was decided that she would remain in the custody of her father, but under the supervision of the Council of Child Protection until her case could be reviewed next summer, once the school year had come to an end.

Late last week this story took another odd turn, when it was reported that the now 14-year old girl went missing, sparking all kinds of speculation in her native country as to her whereabouts. Her boat, the 26-foot long Guppy, remained safely in dock, but the local media was reporting that Laura had been spotted withdrawing 3500 Euros (roughly $5000) from her bank account. After that, she simply disappeared, without a trace.

That is until this weekend, when according to the BBC, the teenager was taken into custody on the island of St. Maartin in the Caribbean, after being recognized by a local. Exactly how she got there has yet to be determined, but yesterday it was reported that she ran away from home, apparently in reaction to being denied the option of sailing. Apparently she left her father a note before going, but the details of that note are also unknown.There is some speculation that she may have been hoping to find a boat and set sail on her own once she reached the Caribbean.

Laura is already on her way back home to the Netherlands, and it is unclear how authorities there will react to this little jaunt to the Caribbean. She was expressly forbidden to travel abroad without permission before her case was reviewed next year. I can’t help but think that this won’t help her case much.

I’ve written about Laura more extensively elsewhere, and I have always felt that 13 or 14 was too young for her to sail solo around the globe. I won’t deny that she has all the technical skills to be a sailor. The girl practically grew up on a boat, and her skills are, by all reports, highly developed. But that still doesn’t mean she should be turned loose on the ocean by herself. As I’ve said before, there are plenty of 14 year old kids who have the actual skills to drive a car, but that doesn’t mean I’d let them go on a cross country road trip by themselves.

I do respect Laura’s dream to sail around the world of course, but it does beg the question “what’s the hurry?” Can’t she wait a few more years and go when she’s gained more experience and maturity? Or is this simply a ploy to set some dubious mark as the youngest person to make such a journey? Is that a good enough reason to risk any teenager’s life?

So? What do you think? Should she be allowed to go? Are the high seas any place for a 14-year old by themselves? I’d love to have the Gadling readers weigh in with their thoughts.