Teen sailor Laura Dekker completes first leg of solo circumnavigation

Laura Dekker completes solo crossing of the Atlantic OceanDutch teenager Laura Dekker completed the first leg of her attempt to sail into the record books a few days back when she completed a solo sail across the Atlantic, reaching the island of St. Maarten in the process. The 15 year old is attempting to set a new record for the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

Dekker has been hoping to make this voyage since she was 13, but her departure was delayed on more than one occasion by the Dutch government. Earlier this year they relented however, and granted her permission to sail after she demonstrated her skills and made a commitment to keeping up with her education.

The voyage officially began back in August when she sailed from the Netherlands to Gibraltar before proceeding on to the Canary Islands. Laura then spent two months there getting her 38-foot yacht, affectionately named Guppy, ready for the journey ahead. She also used that time to wait out the hurricane season before beginning her crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

On December 2 she left the Cape Verde Islands, off the west coast of Africa, en route to the Caribbean. It took her 17 days to cover the 2200 nautical miles, arriving in St. Maarten this past Sunday. Dekker described the voyage as “a very nice trip.”

She’ll now spend some time in the Caribbean, sailing the islands and exploring the region before moving on to her next big leg. She says she doesn’t have any set plan at the moment, but hopes to cross through the Panama Canal, and on to the Pacific, in April or May.

Ah, the idle days of youth. Sailing the high seas, exploring tropical paradises, and seeing the world. My teen age years were much like this. And by much like this, I mean not at all.

[Photo credit: AP]

Antarctic tour operators offer tips for independent sailors

The Antarctic tourism season is just getting underway and travelers the world over are preparing to make the journey to the bottom of the planet where they’ll be treated to one of the most remote and untouched destinations on Earth. The vast majority of those travelers will book their visit with a travel company and will end up cruising the Southern Ocean aboard a ship that is specially designed to safely navigate those waters.

But some of the more adventurous travelers will actually make an independent journey to Antarctica, electing to sail aboard their own private yachts. To help those sailors, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) has released a set of guidelines and requirements for those traveling off Antarctica aboard a sailing or motorized vessel that carries 12 or fewer passengers. Those guidelines are designed to not only help keep travelers to the region safe, but also protect the fragile Antarctic environment as well.

Amongst the resources made available for independent travelers sailing below 60ºS are information on the permits and legislative requirements from various countries of origin, as well as guidelines for anticipating some of the potential risks for traveling in the area. The IAATO also spells out etiquette for contact with indigenous wildlife, as well as encounters with other ships, both private and commercial. These resources and much more can be found at IAATO.org/yachts.

The IAATO is an organization that works with its members to promote safe and environmentally friendly travel to Antarctica. Over the past couple of years there have been several high profile incidents in the region, but the IAATO has made some positive recommendations to help its members to avoid future issues while keeping clients safe and preventing environmental disasters. As a result, there are fewer vessels traveling the Antarctic waters and the region is safer to visit than it has been in some time.

For adventure travelers, Antarctica often represents their ultimate destination. Whether the travel their on a commercial tour or as an independent sailor, the IAATO is dedicated to helping them realize their dreams of seeing that place in a safe and responsible manner.

[Photo credit: The IAATO]

Kiwi sailor sets new speed record for crossing the Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage has often been a source of endless fascination amongst sailors. For centuries Explorers searched for the route, hoping to find a faster, more efficient, way to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic by sailing through the Arctic, north of Canada. For most of that time, that route was sealed shut thanks to endless miles of ice, but in recent years, warmer temperatures have allowed the route to open to ship traffic for the first time, which has caused a number of daring souls to challenge those treacherous waters.

Amongst the ships making the journey this year was the Astral Express, captained by Graeme Kendall out of New Zealand. Kendall was hoping to complete the voyage that he first attempted back in 2005, but was forced to abandon thanks to thick pack ice. This year, the Kiwi not only finished what he started five years ago, he set a new record in the process.

Kendall’s journey began when he entered the Passage at Lancaster Sound, along the Atlantic side, back on August 27th. It then took him just 12 days to navigate the route to Barrow, Alaska, finishing on Sept. 9th, officially exiting the Passage on to the Pacific side. Those 12 days represent a new speed record for the fastest solo crossing of the passage, and local authorities believe that it may be the fastest of any ship, including those with a full crew.

For Kendall, completing the Northwest Passage is just the first stage of a planned circumnavigation attempt of the planet, which will cover more than 18,000 miles when it is finished.

[Photo credit: Graeme Kendall]

14-year old granted permission to sail solo around the world

14-year old Laura Dekker has waited months for her opportunity to attempt a solo circumnavigation of the globe, and after being denied on several occasions by Dutch authorities, yesterday she finally received permission to set sail at long last. She now plans to begin the voyage, which could take upwards of two years to complete, sometime in the next couple of weeks. The teen hopes to set a new record for the youngest person to sail around the globe alone.

Laura first received attention last year when it was announced that she hoped to make the solo circumnavigation attempt at the age of 13. Before she could set out however, a Dutch court intervened, barring her from sailing. Since that time, she has been under the supervision of child protective services, who have continually recommended against allowing her to sail. That recommendation changed recently however, as the young woman trained to improve her sailing and survival skills, and joined a distance learning program that would allow her to continue her studies while she is at sea. Even Laura’s mom, who had been against the voyage, had changed her tune, now granting the 14-year old her blessing to sail.

The voyage that Laura has planned differs quite a bit from the one that was taken by Jessica Watson, the 17-year old girl who recently set the new “youngest” record and Abby Sunderland, who had to be rescued from the Indian Ocean back in June. Those two sailors faced the perilous waters of Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, but Laura will instead take a route that passes through the Panama and Suez Canals. While this lowers the risks involved with her having to deal with some of the worst seas in the world, it does increase the amount of ship traffic she’ll encounter, which means she runs the risk of colliding with another ship in those busy sea lanes.

Perhaps more importantly, Laura will have a support ship that will be following her closely and will be on hand in case the need arises. This ship will be there in the event of trouble, but will not aid her in any way as she navigates the oceans. With this plan in place, she’ll have a safety net to help protect her, but one that won’t endanger the “solo” status of her voyage.

Over the next two weeks the teenager will be working hard to prepare her ship, the Guppy, for the voyage. Once it is stocked with all the gear and supplies that she’ll need, she’ll be on her way, and off on a grand adventure on the high seas. What were you doing when you were 14?

[Photo credit: Associated Press]

Connecticut family spends seven years sailing the world

For one Connecticut family of four, a sailing vacation turned into a seven year adventure. In 2003 the Hopkins family decided to take their 32-foot boat for a long holiday to visit exotic locations. Seven years later, they are settling back into life in the US.

During the voyage the family hit several continents including Africa, Asia, North America, and South America. Their longest stint at sea lasted 36 days and the longest time they spent on land was a 15 month residency in South Africa. The family stayed in a place as long as it felt comfortable and then packed up the boat and moved on.

The two daughters were five and eight-years-old when they departed and were home-schooled during their travels. Learning to live in cramped quarters was one of the biggest lessons the girls came away with. As for the parents, they’ll be starting new careers as high school teachers now that they have this life-changing experience under their belts.