Saturday, August 29, 2009

[round the world attempt] thirteen years old

The Beeb is coming out with very interesting things just now. I swear I'm not short of material but this dilemma is quite a puzzler.

A Dutch court has put a 13-year-old girl under state care for two years, stalling her bid to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. The decision by three Utrecht judges means Laura Dekker's parents, who support her plans, temporarily lose the right to make decisions about her.

A child psychologist will now assess her capacity to undertake the voyage. Miss Dekker says she is happy with the ruling, but she will try to convince the authorities to let her set sail.

We have all the elements here - man against nature, youth striving ever upwards, initiative, the pioneer spirit, wicked state interfering and a pretty girl.

Physically, could she?

Thirteen - possible. Looking at the body, she's capable of much the same as I was at that age and I was never physically weak. I could handle a Sabot at 11 and a Moth at 13, handle them enough to sail them in a race or on a long journey around the bay.

She was born on a boat and has sailed all her life. She's a bit physically weaker than me at that age and yet she'd probably be tougher and very determined. If she had support crew the whole way, as did Ellen Macarthur, if her boat had systems designed for her physical ability and to allow her to sleep, if she does take the two years, then why not, physically?

The dangers of such a journey

Dekker had planned to start her trip in September and to take two years to circumnavigate the world on an eight-metre boat named Guppy.

This is an ultra-small boat in seagoing terms, even for an experienced adult and that's a major worry for a start. It's also a huge boat for a little girl, no matter if she's a world champion dinghy sailor or whatever.

I'd also ask if you would check out this post again - just click to the middle of the videos - and get a feel for what it's like. It is hell out there and the question is not whether the kid can handle the boat - I think she could - but whether she can handle freak conditions.

When crews of seasoned adults, big, beefy men, have trouble with them, when I, not to put too fine a point on it, have trouble handling nature out there, then it's daunting for a kid, no matter how closeby they are in support craft and via radio.

Please check out that video and see what I mean.

Verdict? Possible but only with extreme support. Why do it? Well, why do anything? I can understand that completely. Two years loss of study? Perhaps but she's young and not 10 - she's 13. I'm sure when she comes back, she'd be allowed to catch up. Knowing her determination, she'd probably succeed too.

She said it herself - she hasn't had a normal upbringing, she's clearly self-reliant and as a sailor, if I were the parent and my wife, also a sailor, agreed, perhaps that's the clinching issue.

Actually, one more thing is the clinching issue - what role would authorities, i.e. taxpayers, have when she gets into trouble? Any rescue attempt is measured in tens of thousands of euros and her own crew could not help her in extreme conditions.


This is frightening. What role does the state have in protecting the child? She's not being sexually abused [it seems], she's not being bullied, she seems quite even-tempered. We don't know and she accepted the state ruling so quickly. She'd like to try again, she said. That's the kid in her talking.

Did the state have the moral right and obligation to stop her? She wanted to beat the 17 year old boy with the record. 17 year old boys, I can attest, are a different kettle of fish to 13 year old girls. At 17, I was sailing something like this.

Look, all right, the kid is too young but not by a lot and she is a good sailor. But custody for two years? That's pretty draconian. And do the parents have any right to judge the fitness of the girl to do the voyage?

This looks line ball, doesn't it?



I think it wrong that the Child Protection Services have taken her into custody whilst they are clearly evaluating the parent's decision to allow a minor to take to the high seas w/out parental guardianship[presumably].But,in my not-so-humble opinion, they are not wrong to want to assess the risks involved for the girl including determining if the parents aren't reckless and neglectful in allowing the girl to take on such a long, ardous and potentially life threatening journey.
P.S You've written that she has been placed in care for both 2 mths and 2 yrs.

I would not allow it with my child at that age[if I had a child] unless the kid was hyperactive or troublesome.

James Higham said...

Oops, well spotted. Corrected now.

Is hyperactive or troublesome the sole criterion? :)

CherryPie said...

Yes this one makes you think and wonder exactly what is the right answer. I still haven't come to a conclusion.

Winfred Mann said...

Adrenaline junkie.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

What on earth would a child psychologist know about it?

Why don't they get Robin Knox-Johnston to assess her ability?

But more to the point, what does it all have to do with nanny state anyway? If she wants to do it, and her parents want to let her, that's the end of the matter in my opinion.

State, butt out, as usual you're not needed and add nothing of value.

James Higham said...

Yes, Robin Knox-Johnston and Ellen Macarthur for the female side of it. They'd do nicely. There are good Dutch sailors also.


Yachtsman- The Child Protection Services have to regulate questionable parenting to some degree.Not all are fit to make healthy decisions for their children.This one would naturally raise a red flag.

1.Long term interruption in minor's education.

2.Sailing unaccompanied by parents around the world,under unknown 'guardianship'.

3.Physical/emotional dangers of the trip.

4. Parents unusual leeway & lifestyle regarding minor.

If all parents were allowed to do what they wanted with their children the children would suffer[not the parents].

State interference in family life just has to be 'executed' fairly,evenly and responsibly.But there IS a need for this 'interference'.Sadly.

* And they should 'interfere' on the behalf of animals well being more, too!

Gracchi said...

Good balanced article James. I agree with you that she probably shouldn't be allowed to sail but that custody is (unless there are facts in the case we don't know) an overreaction. You should do more of these.