Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

Too much too young?
August 31, 2009, 19:17
Filed under: Amsterdam, News, Travel

Sitting at home in the Netherlands earlier this year, a 13-year-old girl turned to her father and likely said something along these lines: “Papa, I think I might take the boat for a sail.”

“Sure honey. Where to?”

“Forecast is good; maybe across the English Channel. Spend the night and pop back tomorrow.”

“Sure honey. Take care.”

The ‘barely a teenager’ in question, Laura Dekker, did set sail and crossed the channel solo, making landfall at Lowestoft, England. This is not as unusual as it appears. Laura was born on a yacht moored in New Zealand waters to a Dutch father and German mother. She spent her first four years at sea as her parents sailed the world. She has salt water in her veins. The kid knows the difference between a reef knot and a reefer.


Social workers in Lowestoft somehow got word of the wayward teenage sailor and put her into ‘care’ overnight. Dick Dekker, the father (you couldn’t invent that name), who, according to AP reports, thought his daughter more than capable of finding her own way back home, was nonetheless summoned to collect her. The trip to Blighty was wasted. Laura cast off and merely fulfilled her father’s confident expectation and returned unaccompanied.

Now comes word – courtesy of the child protection services (the Netherland’s equivalent of NSW’s DOCS) and a Utrecht court order last Friday – that Laura has been put under a two-month supervision order. And all because she wants to sail solo around the world, supposedly with her parent’s blessings.  She’s been planning it for several years. She was due to leave in the next few weeks. Whatever happened to 13-year-old girls Twittering Twilight updates? Maybe Laura does that too, in between furling spinnakers?

The fact that the state has stepped into what is essentially a private and familial arrangement has divided opinion in this traditionally tolerant society, at least if you glanced at the European press over the weekend.  A DutchNews online poll shows a 60/40 split in favour of state intervention. Seeking a local perspective, I turned to the two guys at the table next to mine, in a ‘café’ in Haarlemmerstraat, not far to the west of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. It’s sunny outside but you wouldn’t know it: the main illumination comes from a plasma screen broadcasting WWE wrestling.

“Ugh? Decker vhat?” he shrugs. “Try zee Tante Miep if you vant somezing more mellow. And vhat’s zat accent?”

“I’m Australian and your German and I apologise.” Perhaps something was lost in translation. Or ingestion? I went to the counter and ordered some pre-rolled Jamaican take aways (4.50 euros/gram) and sought the waiter’s opinion of the Laura Dekker dilemma.

“We are a nation of proud and famous sailors. Most of the major seafaring routes were pioneered by Dutch navigators centuries ago. Dirk Hartog, Able Tasman; where would your New Holland be if it wasn’t for us Dutch?”

He had a point.

“If this Dekker girl has the ability and the backing of her parents, then what right has the government to tell her what she can and can’t do?”

With that ringing opinion, I stepped into the blinding daylight.  Flashbacks of Jessie Martin, the Victorian teenager who sailed solo somewhere to much acclaim about a decade ago, popped into my hazy head. I went in search of a herring sandwich. They’re usually not hard to find: mobile vans, much like Harry’s Café de Wheels at Woolloomooloo wharf, dispense all manner of pickled marine life, either on cardboard plates or between bread. Three euros can get you a more than adequate salmon roll.

As I munched away it occurred to me that Laura’s situation still has a some way to play out. While continuing to reside with her now-divorced father, authorities are to make a psychological assessment over the next few weeks before the court will decide on the contentious two-year solo circumnavigation Laura seeks. How they propose to assess her ability to withstand the physical and emotional hazards of the proposed trip is anyone’s guess. Social worker, Caroline Vink, of the Netherlands Youth Institute, an advisory body of youth policy, told AP that Laura’s case was not that clear-cut. Leaving talent and experience and passion and parental permission aside, Vink emphasised that ultimately, “the state and society had a moral obligation to intervene when the safety of a child was at risk.”

Laura was reportedly not in court when the supervision order came through. She was out sailing.


25 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Seriously, 40 year old guys have died while sailing across the world. But hey, born on the sea? Why not?

Comment by Sam

What a fascinating decision for the courts to make. A thirteen year old girl has permission from her parents/guardian to leave unsupervised, probably more nautically educated than the average seafarer…yet young enough to be considered a child. My mother is Dutch, a first generation American-born parent who has given the family quite an exposure to the free thinking ways of the Netherlands.

I am surprised that the Netherlands is deliberating so harshly on this girl’s choice to sail. I wonder if she is emotionally mature to handle the experience of traveling so far. Perhaps the merit of the case against her should be based more on her ability to handle interaction with others, if at all, while on the trip. However, if judging the trip on her abilities to fly the hull and fare on the high seas, I’m certain she’ll pass with wind in her sails.

Comment by Vesper

first of all A 13-year-old girl is a chid.if this is what she wanted to do. As a parent you should have plan a trip like this togther, and all of this could have been a voided , and the state would not have to take this child away for something that she has live for. The father said that his child knows the difference between a reef knot, and she try to do what she thought was all right to do .the father thought his daughter was more than capable of finding her own way back home, . The trip to was wasted. but Laura felt that she fulfilled her father’s confident expectation. and any little girl want there dad to feel good about them

Comment by Crystal Griffin

Your writing is a total chaos, confusion and illiterate jungle-mumble! Why don’t you first form a concise opinion about a subject and then learn how to clearly express it. When this is all done, please learn how to convey the thought in English and only then attempt to write it on a public forum while checking the spelling of every word you write.

Comment by Marck

Thank you for your detailed, coherent and considered comment. Who says I have to form an opinion; the intent may have been to back fill the story, raise the issues and let you decide. Seems that was beyond you. And taking into account that I defer to the UK version of spelling English, not American, can you point out the typos, please?

Comment by Grant Doyle

To me it is between the parents and the child. The government shouldn’t be involved. If everyone in the family is in agreement, I don’t see the point of the government trying to control Laura’s life and dreams.

Comment by softballgirl78

I totally agree. Vink says “The state and society had a moral obligation to intervene when the safety of a child was at risk.” But, how can the state define risk differently than the parents, society, or anyone for that matter? Sports are a risk.. riding on a jet ski or a four wheeler is a risk.. Life is a risk!
Preparation and organization minimizes risk in any situation. And, since she’s been planning the trip for years, I say the state should leave her and her family to make their own decisions.

Comment by Dan

I used to be a licensed Captain and it seems to me that these days kids are more likely to find themselves in harms way at home than on the ocean. People that are ignorant of the sea are always fearful of it.

Comment by Michael Scott

Dear whoever it may concern.

I am a Sunday School teacher who deals with children since 1988 and up to this time I stil become a sunday school teacher in Jepara, Java, Indonesia.

What i would like to say is that I know more bit about how mature a girl of 13 years is.

Before . talking further, we would like to say that my class has 3 categories : small class for children of 3 – 7 years, middle calss for children of 8 – 9 and big class for children of 10 – 14 years. I mean at least a 13 years girl is included still in sunday school .When we see youth sevice in church who has members of 15 years kids or older, a 13 years girl is still included a sunday school student. Even A 15 yeras boy or girl ,we think, is not mature enough pshyocologically and emotionally in facing a problem. Even me who is 41 years old am still sometimes labil in facing a hard problem. You can imagine if Laura Dekker is alone in the middle of the sea having problem, ( we hope not , if she does so ) and no body around her.So someone must refrain Laura from going too far,sorry. She is not still mature enough to sail, without acommpanion. I love children, I motivate their life always, I make them smarter, I give them English course free ( for the last 6 months ).

I am not working for any NGO ( non goverment organization )but only a sunday school teacher who has dedictaed since 1988 up to now.But I love children and teenegers very much. As if they were my responsibilty as well.

That’s all we would like to say.
You may send us email whenever and we would surely reply it.

Kindest regards,
Tri Gunanto
A member of GITJ ( Gereja Injili Tanah Jawa / Java Evangelist Church ), member of World Mennonite Church

Comment by tri gunanto

It’s one thing to abandon a child to the street, quite another to let her do on a life-defining endeavor.

Let her go I say.

Comment by Jimmy St-Germain

You only live once. This girl has decided to start living at a very young age. Sounds much better to me than the ordinary twittering teenager. If she doesn’t make it then at least she went down sailing.

Comment by Asymmetrical Communication

Great story, except the part about child custody and her parents getting divorced. Sail Laura sail! Live your passion!

Comment by Jenna

City that I want to visit, greetings to you D3pd, ^_^…V

Comment by D3pd

She does not sound like a 13 year old to me, she sounds responsible and mature. The government has no place in deciding what people do, its between the girl and her parents. Whilst I am sure I would not want my 13 year old to do it, every one is different.
The world is being ruined by do-gooders who want to control what everyone else thinks and does ‘for their own good’. Its the spirit of adventure that made the world what it is. Leave individuals to make up their own minds but also let them live with the consequences.
Leave them alone.
It does not surprise me that it started with social workers in the UK, we have the world leaders in interfering do-gooders.

Comment by Climbing Frames Guru

Everyone is saying the girl is a good sailor but what if something goes wrong and she is all alone?
Let’s say the girl gets scared or something or something goes wrong? What is she going to do? Who is going to help her when she out at sea all by herself?

This is ludicrous!
I don’t care who well this girl can sail a boat she a child.Why can’t the girl’s parents go with her? The Dutch authorities are doing the right thing.

Comment by orvillelloyddouglas

why did the social worker find out about it? if it’s because the father announced it, why did he? for notoriety over his 13 year old girl being famous for the trip? why not keep it quiet and announce after? did the family divorce over contention because of disagreement over this issue? I am a sailor, have been for 30 years. but, 13 years old around the world? why not wait and be a little more sure of her chances. if the parents both agreed she could manage… why the divorce? Mom probably freaked out because she is a good mom. Sailing together is one thing. a 13 yr old alone for almost a year? Still think it’s not the gov’s business. Just would hate the “child” to be a pawn for attention.

Comment by douglas

go … girl!

Comment by sanjiv

amazing..! that’s quite a talent.

Comment by aKDa

I think this is a family affair and has nothing to do with the state and bad child conditions or anything that threatens her well being. If they have raised her at sea, and her dad and mom feel confident enough to let her go and be (Having the knowledge that she has) then so be it. Who the hell told the social workers tho?

Comment by When Giants Meet

Two years at sea is two years without adult supervision. This is also two years of potential sickness and potential harm without a parent. She would be raising herself. Her dad is quite a peculiar individual who is willing to not see his daughter for two years.

Comment by DC

Dick Dekker….lol

Comment by Tony

Here in the inner cities of America I see 3 year old children left to run in the streets, almost get hit by traffic and play in filthy offal dirt on the side of the road, next to waste water retention ponds they can easily drown in, near chained bad dogs with no fence to hem them, in a neighborhood populated with sex offenders. Where is the child services? Busy following sensationalism.

Comment by Tim Kay

Ok, Seriously, If the world continues to “Molly-Coddle” (same as baby them) our youth (amd Leaders of tomorrow) will ALL be babies until they reach the age of 25! Come on, What’s happening to us! What ever happened to the philosophy of letting them learn! There is something to be said for someone who “Let’s” their children grow up and learn! It sounds as if she could probably out-sail a lot of people twice (if not three) times her age! We all need to learn how to let go of our own insecurites and can all learn a little from this story ourselves! Let the child do it! And lets stop backing the damn governments of the world from raising OUR children!

Comment by kendall97

I have to side with the courts on this one.Some parents do use their kids to realize their own dreams and to get famous but by doing so they may put child’s safety and well being in jeopardy.Parenting is not what it use to be when I was growing up.. so in some cases state has the right and obligation to intervene on behalf of a minor whether parents or even child like it or not.

Comment by brainstrands

It is not only a technical question, whether she can sail or not. Experienced couples and families sailing around the world have met pirates and had dreadful experiences (=life traumas). Besides, she is still growing up and needs group contact and family support, like every 13 year old.

Comment by Anita

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: