14-year-old Sailor Gets OK for Solo World Trip

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MIDDELBURG, Netherlands -- A Dutch court cleared the wayTuesday for 14-year-old Laura Dekker to embark on a risky attemptto become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, anadventure that could begin in the next two weeks.

Judges at Middelburg's family court lifted a guardianship orderimposed on Dekker last year after she said she wanted to set sailwhen she was still just 13.

Her plan ignited a worldwide debate on how far parents should goin supporting or encouraging their children's improbable dreams.

"With this decision, the responsibility for Laura lies with herparents," said presiding judge S. Kuypers. "It is up to them todecide whether Laura can set off on her sail trip."

Both of Laura's parents, who are separated, say they support herattempt.

Dekker was not in court for Tuesday's decision. Her lawyer,Peter de Lange, said she was on her boat, Guppy, and would bedelighted by the decision.

"She will be unbelievable happy with this," De Lange said."Justice has been done."

Dekker could set off for her starting point in Portugal withintwo weeks, he said.

The Council for Child Protection, the Dutch government'sumbrella childcare agency, had asked the court to extend foranother year a guardianship order that had prevented Dekker fromsailing.

The agency will study the court's decision, spokesman RichardBakker said. It can decide to appeal.

In a surprising difference of opinion, the youth protectiongroup looking after Dekker had disagreed with the Council and saidshe was ready to sail.

Writing on her blog last weekend, Dekker was hopeful the courtwould lift the order, saying she took comfort from the fact thatthe welfare workers who have monitored her education andpreparations for months believe she is ready.

"She is looking forward to making the journey," De Lange said.

Since making headlines around the world last year as a13-year-old, Dekker has obtained a bigger boat and equipped it withmodern navigation and safety equipment. She has also studiedeverything from how to stitch her own wounds, to how to cope with sleep deprivation and how to put out fires onboard her 11.5-meter(38- foot) twin-mast ketch.

"Laura has worked very hard in recent weeks on her survivaltechniques," De Lange said.

"If everything works out the way I want, I can leave forPortugal sometime in the next two weeks," she wrote in her blog.

In anticipation of a favorable ruling, she recently fitted theboat with new cushions and a new sail - both in her favorite color,red - and a sunshade.

Dekker and her supporters have carefully plotted a nearlytwo-year route from port to port around the world - including analternative path around Africa to avoid the pirate-infested Gulf ofAden if necessary.

Despite the meticulous preparations, the Council for ChildProtection said it remains concerned about her mental and physicaldevelopment during such a long and lonely trip.

Sailing is in Dekker's blood. She was born on a yacht in NewZealand waters while her parents were sailing around the world andholds New Zealand and Dutch passports. While her father has alwaysbacked Dekker's plan, her mother initially opposed it before givingher daughter her blessing earlier this year.

Dekker could now become the youngest person to sail solo aroundthe world, beating the mark now held by Australian 16-year-oldJessica Watson.

Watson spent 210 days successfully maneuvering her 34-foot(10-meter) yacht, Ella's Pink Lady, around the world, encounteringraging storms and 40-foot (12-meter) waves along the way.

But the risks of such solo voyages were highlighted in June,when a 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of California had to be rescuedfrom her solo trip after a rogue wave snapped her mast in thesouthern Indian Ocean.

Sunderland was rescued by a French fishing boat more than 2,000miles (3,200 kilometers) west of Australia two days after the alarmwas raised.

Sunderland's parents faced fierce criticism for letting herattempt the trip and for the tens of thousands spent by emergencyteams on her rescue. However, they faced no backlash a yearearlier, when Abby's older brother Zac completed the same journeyat 17, briefly holding the record for being the world's youngestsolo circumnavigator.

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