Laura Dekker Interview: A “Maidentrip” Around the World

Dieter Loibner interviewed Laura Dekker and learned about parents, her new documentary, and what she now thinks of as her biggest challenge after sailing around the world.

20th January 2014.
By Dieter Loibner

About Laura

Your upbringing was quite different from that of your peers. Did that make it difficult to find friends and “fit in”?

“Fitting in” is a pretty general word as everyone is different and there are so many different groups of people. But No I never had any problems finding people I liked and connected with.

How did your friends react when you told them about your plan of sailing solo around the planet?

They thought I was insane.

Laura Dekker

Laura Dekker’s adventures have been chronicled in the documentary Maidentrip.

Did your unique upbringing strengthen your resolve during the confrontation with the Dutch authorities that denied you the opportunity at first?

Yes, maybe it helped a bit, but some people just have more willpower then others. It was the woman I had to ask permission to attend to the world school, a school for self-studying and home schooling who denied it at first. And from there on it just became bigger of a story.

In your book you have an unflattering view the Netherlands and the authorities there. Did your high-profile fight change anything?

Yes, I already didn’t have a very flattering view before the court cases but it definitely became worse over that year.

You like solitude, but also mentioned loneliness. You wrote it felt like a whole lifetime had already passed and that a different girl was sailing the boat. What changed?

In the year that I had to fight for my freedom I learned a lot about the world and the people in it. My dream wasn’t just my dream anymore but became a worldwide discussion.

But you also seem to enjoy social situations. How do you balance the need for solitude with your social life?

I go sailing when I want to be alone and just around nature. When I want to be with people I simply drop my anchor. But now that I’m not sailing as much anymore I just go out for a daysail or a nice long walk. Everyone want his little piece of solitude every once in a while. I’m not that much different from “normal life people”, I think.

You mentioned your blog and Skype and e-mails. Did you feel this to be a welcome addition to your life as a solo sailor or rather a distraction?

Well, I didn’t have Internet on the boat, so no distractions there. On land, when I could find [a connection] I could use Skype. Bloging was nice, because it was the easiest way to tell everyone at once what’s going on.

After the divorce of your parents, how did you end up living with your father?

My parents asked me, where I’d rather want to live and I chose for my dad.

How did your mother react to your plan of sailing solo around the world?

Both of my parent’s weren’t very happy with the idea at first, but then realized that I was really serious about it. So my dad let me organize everything myself and helped me with the safety part of it. My mom just looked from a distance, trying to get used to the idea, but never said no.

About your dad: Did he ever discourage you from this venture? 

Yes, of course! I don’t think he ever told me that it was going to be a fun or good trip, but always the opposite.

What is your relationship to your parents today?

I’ve always had a very good relationship with my parents with my mom it’s been getting better and better over the years. I try to talk to them as often as I can and they’re always there for me.

The business of records

Age-related records are no longer recognized, does this surprise/disappoint you?

No. I knew this before I left on my trip as they made this rule just a couple months before I left. I never cared, as I knew I would be the youngest and just wanted this for myself and not for anyone or anything else.

Still, you are recognized as the youngest person to have sailed solo around the world alone, what does this distinction mean to you?

Not much. I mean, it’s definitely awesome to have this title, but I’m still just a normal girl.

You and your peers stated that the voyage was about sailing, adventure and seeing the world, records be damned. If you did this trip today, without headlines and sponsors, would you still want to do it? Could you do it?

Yeah definitely. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it on the Guppy I have now. But before I became known worldwide, I planned to do my trip on a Hurley 700 without sponsors or media attention. Unfortunately it turned out a bit different. I still didn’t have much sponsorship just to get Guppy shipshape, but I worked different places to get around the world. Currently I work for a dive company to save up some money for my next travels.

You have an ambivalent relationship to the media. You shunned publicity and recognition, but you also made appearances to satisfy your sponsors. How did you find the balance?

I never liked being famous, so I didn’t want to appear in the media too much. I just kept my blog up to date, mentioned my sponsors and put logos on my site to keep everyone happy.

What was the approximate overall budget for this trip?

I wouldn’t have a clue, just worked when I needed money :) never had a budget.

How much was covered by sponsors?

Most of the equipment of my boat, but I did not receive cash. So solar panels, dinghy, parts of the engine, sails, life raft, and some other small things. I fixed the whole boat up myself though, together with my dad.

In your book you mentioned Robin Graham and Tania Aebi as inspiration. Did you communicate with them before, during and after the trip?

Not with Robin, but I had a lot of e-mail contact with Tania and went to visit her up in Vermont.

What do you think about your fellow young circumnavigators?

They did a completely different thing with different goals, fully sponsored, with shore crews and whole organizations behind them. Also they where going for a record, but I wasn’t much interested in sailing non-stop [like Jessica Watson]. I really just wanted to sail and see the world.

Looking back on the voyage

It’s been said that because of technological advances, sailing around the world is not as difficult as it once was. Hence many people do it, including very young and very old ones. How do you see this development?

Yes I agree that it has gotten a lot easier, as long as everything keeps working. If one little thing breaks down nowadays, most people are lost. Me? I had paper chart and a couple GPS units and a sextant on the boat. So even if [the electronics] would break down, I would still find my way. Besides, my boat is considered very basic compared to most boats now, without fridge, shower or high-tech equipment.

Describe the finish of your trip as you see it today. Relief? Satisfaction? End of a chapter? Worry about the next big thing?

Nah, just another crossing done for me. I really wanted to sleep and have a warm shower when I arrived in Sint Maarten. I didn’t realize at that stage what I had accomplished and it took about five months until it slowly began to sink in. Mostly, because I just kept going afterwards [sailing to New Zealand]. My life didn’t change after I had finished.

What’s most memorable now that you’ve been back for a while?

I really loved the South Pacific islands, the cultures and nature. The Indian Ocean and South Africa where huge sailing challenges because of the seas and weather I had there. But now that I have done it, it’s a very cool experience.

What was the toughest challenge you faced?

Fighting the Dutch government to let me go on my trip.

What do you consider your greatest strength, your greatest weakness?

On the upside, if I really want something, I just go for it. On the downside: A friend says that I am not patient enough with my opportunities. I want to take them all, straight away.

If and when you have children of your own, do you think you’d encourage them to go to sea at an early age?

No, just if they want to, but I would never push them. My parents always let it be my own choice to go to sea, but my sister never did and isn’t a sailor at all.

Who do you admire most ?

Bernard Moitessier and Tania Aebi.

What made you decide to move to New Zealand?

I always wanted to go back to New Zealand just to see where I was born. Once I got here I liked it so much that I decided to stay.

Watch the documentary Maidentrip


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One thought on “Laura Dekker Interview: A “Maidentrip” Around the World

  1. wow. I look forward to watching the documentary but I am also interested in what she thinks about the movie.

    I like the fact that despite the socialist government doing everything they could to protect her from herself she didn’t have a tech-overloaded boat when she finally set out.

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