Monday, August 23, 2010

Laura Dekker’s Misstated Mission

Whenever these would-be youth circumnavigators reach out to mainstream media to announce their activity, I regularly question its relevance for the Scuttlebutt newsletter. But here I am, providing an update that 14-year-old Laura Dekker left Gibraltar, a British territory bordering the southwestern tip of Spain, on Saturday on the first leg of her global journey.

The Dutch sailor is aiming to become - big shocker coming - the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Mounds of criticism have piled on her dream, or whoever it was that planted the seed for her to take on such a mission. Without being judgmental, there are a few things I need to get cleared from my head before changing tacks:

- RECORD: Call it an adventure, call it an achievement, but just don’t call it a record. For there to be records, there needs to be record keepers. There needs to be guidelines to follow, and Laura’s route is unique compared to those that came before her. No honorable record keeping organization wants to administer this ‘youngest’ record category. The World Sailing Speed Record Council and Guinness World Record both say thanks, but no thanks.

- SOLO: I will give that Laura is the only person on the boat, but she will be far from sailing solo. She plans countless stops along her route, and may leave the boat in port for periods of time to fly home. Hardly a test of solo sailing. Of course when she is sailing, she will be connected to her supporters by all forms of communication equipment. Whenever Laura is feeling anxious at sea, she will scarcely be alone.

- SAILING: Maybe Laura should restate her mission to be the ‘youngest person to travel solo around the world’. Call me a skeptic, but will she be sailing through the Panama Canal? Or the Suez Canal? What about the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden. Will she utilize the engine during the countless stops along her route? Or, are we running loose with the term “sailing”? Is Laura onboard the ‘Disney Dream’ cruise ship that will “set sail” from port to port?

I do hope she is successful and is doing this for the right reasons. As for the inclusion of her updates in Scuttlebutt, I will continue to question their appropriateness, and I hope the ‘butthead community does the same. At least you will be aware of her, as the mainstream media will certainly expose your non-sailing friends to her, so perhaps you can provide them some insight too. -- By Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt

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At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the commentary Craig. An enlightened perspective on the latest entry into the recent mania to be the youngest female solo circumnavigator. I wonder what Tania Aebi might think of all this, as she really was the first, way back when.

Jessica Watson and family did it right, and she returned a welcomed national heroine. Abby Sunderland & company seemed I'll equipped from the start to finish.

I trust the young Laura Dekker will fully find herself up to the task os sailing singlehanded around this gorgeous globe, however many stops she ends up making, and nebulous records notwithstanding.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

".........Jessica Watson and family did it right......."

Anonymous, please let's get it right once and for all.

Jessica Watson most definitely did not get it right!!!
Her family and managers are the only people who believe she did.
And what makes her voyage so "remarkable"?
Because she's a she and 16 years of age?
I often wonder how all these wannabe teeny-boppers would have fared if they'd been required to sail aboard the original "Suhali"!

At 7:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That commentary seems kind of harsh. I understand the purpose of Scuttlebutt and I think it is a great newsletter. This girl is about to embark on a trip that few people have done or have the gutts to do. As a father, I can't imagine sending my 14 year old daughter to do this, but that is besides the point. We should be sending her support and not tearing her down because of the word "record" or because she may use her engine to evade pirates. She will come out of this trip a stronger person with the character that many of us lack. Please keep the negative comments to yourself.

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Taylor Michie said...

Regarding the Laura Dekker article (in Scuttlebutt 3162), I agree with your definitions and your restatement of her mission. In my opinion, the title of "youngest to sail around the world" continues to take on a less literal meaning as the years go on.

No longer is it a battle of mentality as a single sailor braves the world's oceans with no communication and just navigation charts and the supplies on his boat. Now, it's a test of execution as navigation, shore communications, and growing technology allow sailors to be the only one on the boat, but they're clearly not the only ones involved in the sailing aspect.

I think Laura Dekker's route is also a less prestigious one, as she will use the Suez and Panama Canals to assist her, instead of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, two of the most prestigious capes in the world.

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Peter Gooch said...

In my opinion, the way Laura is going about her journey is wrong, and in fact it will only become newsworthy if she gets into trouble or gets hijacked by Somalian pirates, which is not what sailing is about at all, is it.

At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Charles J. Doane said...

I'm afraid I must quarrel with some points raised by Craig Leweck regarding Laura Dekker. First, she has not reached out to "announce her activity." As evidenced by her secret departure from Gibraltar, she is instead trying to avoid media exposure. Second, Laura's route is not "unique compared to those that came before her." It is perfectly in keeping with the precedent established by the first two teen circumnavigators, Robin Lee Graham and Tania Aebi, who both also made westabout voyages via the Panama Canal. Finally, I don't THINK the record for youngest around is what really motivates Laura. It seems all she really wants to do is go sailing. If anything, I'd say she's leading this "teen ocean sailor" hoopla back to its roots and away from the bad example set by Abby Sunderland.

At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Beth Perry said...

I have to give you my one comment on Laura Dekker. She has one hell of a website for a 14 yr old. Looks like a very well funded campaign.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Scuttleblog said...

Her website opens with: “Laura has a great dream. She wants to be the youngest sailor to circumnavigate the world.” I do wish her well, but what are the standards to make such a claim? With her planned transit through the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal, I stand by the contention of the World Sailing Speed Record Council that circumnavigations don’t include shortcuts. And if she was seeking to maintain a low profile, her full feature website that promotes a long list of sponsors (and a request for more), plus the ill-advised Guinness World Records banner, seems to have opened the door for media exposure. Here is the website:

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Lydia Jewell said...

A late opinion on the teen circumnavigators finds me at odds with the jaded doubters about such undertakings. Sailing around the world by any of several routes, or alone or with crew, is an enormous undertaking, not just of a suitable boat, proper equipment, good shore support, and financial backing, but a tremendous mental resolve (guts, if you wish) to endure the myriad of situations, problems and fatigue that are part and parcel of such voyage.

I was lucky to sail around the world with a wonderful crew and skipper back in the 50's when present-day navigational gadgets, current weather reports, and electronic communications were but a dream. However, that being said, even with all of these "luxuries", setting off across great oceans, congested island seas, through every kind of weather, and the frailty of an even well- found sailing boat in some conditions, takes an enormous amount of focus and mental stamina, no matter the route-- stops or non-stop.

I take my hat off to anyone of any age who has a great desire to test themselves in this way, as long as it is not attempted frivolously or stupidly. How many of the critics of these ventures could even come close to attempting the planning and execution of such a dream. Not many--or there would be hundreds of sailors enroute right now.

I have been fortunate enough to have met several circumnavigators: three very young at the time--Dwight Long, Robin Graham and Tanya Aebe. Also, Miles Smeeton and his wife, and the Hiscocks--all extraordinary people. Just to set off on such a venture takes great courage and fortitude, successful or not. So, before criticizing would-be, round- the- world sailors, think of the enormous fortitude and planning it takes just to shove off.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Scuttleblog said...

I agree 100% that any kind of circumnavigation is to be applauded. However, when someone is trying to set a ‘youngest’ record, shouldn’t there be certain standards should to follow? If I were to walk around my house, can I also say that I walked around the world? Of course not. And while the World Sailing Speed Record Council no longer administers age records, their circumnavigation course description remains the defacto standard to follow. However, all of these recent ‘youngest’ attempts have used shortcuts in their route, and 14 year old Laura Dekker will be no different.


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