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.

German woman kayaks solo around Australia

A 45-year old German woman named Freya Hoffmeister completed an eleven month odyssey on Tuesday as she paddled into the harbor at Queenscliff, Australia, finishing a successful circumnavigation of that continent by kayak. In the process, she became just the second person to complete that journey, and the first woman, while setting a new speed record as well.

Freya set out from Queenscliff, paddling counter-clockwise around the continent, last January, and returned to that point 332 days later. Of those 332 days, 245 were spent in the cockpit of her kayak, covering more than 9400 miles. Perhaps the most difficult and treacherous part of the expedition was when she paddled across the Gulf of Carpentaria, along the northern coast of Australia. That bold move shaved 680 miles off of the journey, but to achieve the crossing, Freya has to spend nearly eight days in her kayak, going so far as to even sleep there. She is just the second person to make that crossing by kayak as well.

This isn’t Freya’s first major kayak expedition, although it is by far her longest to date. Back in 2007 she spent 33 days circumnavigating Iceland, and then later kayaked around New Zealand’s South Island in 70 days, achieving a new speed record on that adventure too.

The only other person to successfully circumnavigate Australia by kayak was Paul Caffyn, a New Zealander who made the journey 27 years ago. Caffyn took 360 days on his journey, and Freya bested him by nearly a month. Upon reaching the finish line, the German kayaker said, “I promise, if anyone will paddle around Australia within the next 27 years, I’ll be at the finish line.”%Gallery-7921%

Trans World Expedition: Driving around the globe

In a little over two weeks time, on November 15 to be exact, Nicolas Rapp will be setting out on an adventure of a lifetime. He’ll be quitting his comfortable job as an art director for the Associated Press, and setting out on a year long road trip, driving his way around the globe.

Nick’s route will begin and end in New York City. First, he’ll head south into Mexico, continuing down through Central and South America. Eventually he’ll ship his vehicle by boat to South Africa, where he’ll turn north and drive his way to Europe, before turning east across Asia. From there, he’ll once again ship his vehicle, this time across the Pacific, where he’ll then complete his expedition by driving across the U.S. back to New York City. You can review his entire route on his website by clicking here.

In order to complete this type of long distance driving journey, the intrepid traveler had to select the perfect vehicle. Nick elected to go with the Toyota Land Cruiser, which seems like the most logical choice. The rugged and powerful 4×4 is used all over the planet, which means finding parts for it should be easy, and it will perform well in nearly any type of terrain. In preparation for the journey, Nick upgraded the suspension, reinforced the bumpers, added a roof rack, and installed a storage system for all of his gear. He also added a rooftop tent to the vehicle which will give him a comfortable place to sleep each night, saving him money on accommodations as he goes.

Nick budgeted $46,000 for his year long adventure, which includes all of his supplies, costs for shipping the land cruiser, while flying himself, and a fund for emergency repairs. He’s also had to get a battery of vaccinations, as well as a number of travel visas, maps, and guide books as well. He admits that sticking to his budget will be one of the challenges along the way.

Fortunately for us, we all get to follow along with Nick on this journey. He’ll be posting updates and stories from the road at his website located at TransWorldExpedition.com. You can head over there now and read about his preparation for the trip and his final thoughts in the days leading up to the journey.

Good luck Nick! Enjoy the ride!

Dutch teen denied chance to solo circumnavigate the globe, for now

A few months back we posted a story about 13-year old Laura Dekker, who was hoping to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. At the time, the Dutch government stepped in to prevent her from making the journey by placing her under the care of child protection authorities while they reviewed her qualifications to make such a journey. Yesterday, a judge ruled that they felt that she lacked the experience necessary for circumnavigating the globe, and that Laura should remain under the supervision of the Council of Child Protection for the foreseeable future.

The decision isn’t a total loss for the now 14-year old girl. Her case will come up for review again next July, when it is quite possible they will rule in her favor and allow her to set out on the voyage. In the meantime, she’ll work hard to polish her skills under the tutelage of her father, who is an expert sailor himself. The judge also said that they felt that the teen was mentally prepared for the trip, but that they still had concerns about security and safety issues.

Laura’s parents are separated and seem to be split on the young girl’s adventure as well. Her father feels that she is more than prepared for the months at sea alone, but her mom has her doubts, and has gone on record as saying that she is too young to set out on her own.

This is just the latest in a growing trend of teens embarking on dangerous adventures so that they can claim the right to be called the youngest to have achieved one goal or another. Personally, I applaud the Dutch Government for taking a stand on this issue. While Laura may very well have the technical abilities necessary for long distance sailing, that doesn’t mean that she has the life experience necessary to deal with all the potential adversity she could face while at sea. Besides, if she just wants to make the journey, and it isn’t about achieving some record, then where is the harm in waiting a few more years? Does anyone else think that it’s wrong for someone this age to set out on such a dangerous voyage?

Teenage Aussie set to sail around the world

Jessica Watson likes to travel, but she approaches the concept a bit differently. The 16-year-old Australian just left Sydney Harbor today, and she wants to take on the world. Her goal is to sail 23,600 miles alone — through some of the toughest waters in the world — and become the youngest person in history to do so.

The trek has kicked off some debate in Australia as to whether Watson’s parents are nuts for letting her attempt this (not a position that’s hard to imagine).The family claims that the kid is plenty salty and knows her way around a ship, and she’ll have radio and e-mail access. She’ll be blogging, too. In the Netherlands, a pair parents disagreed on whether to let their 13-year-old daughter, Laura Dekker, attempt the same feat. A Dutch court put Dekker in the custody of childcare authorities while the parents fought it out.

For Watson, just getting her pink, 34-foot yacht to the starting line has been difficult. Last week, she collided with a cargo ship while sailing to Sydney to make a few last preparations for her journey. And, strong winds last week prompted the sailor to push back her start date.

There are two ways to categorize these around-the-world trips: assisted and unassisted. Watson is gunning for the latter. The youngest person to do this so far is Jesse Martin, also an Australian, who was 18 when he circled the world in 1999. To qualify as “unassisted,’ the vessel can’t take any new supplies, materials or equipment on board once the trip starts. Repairs can be made, but they must use stuff already on the yacht.

The youngest circumnavigating sailor is Mike Perham, from Britain, who went 28,000 miles in nine months, but his trip counts as “assisted,” because he stopped for repairs. Zac Sunderland, from California, was a few months older than Perham when he completed the trip in 13 months, but his was also assisted.