Laura Dekker, Youngest Solo Circumnavigator

Laura Dekker in 2011

Laura Dekker in 2011

"You don't have to be anyone special to do something big. You just have to want to do it."

Once upon a time (quite recently, actually; 1995, to be precise), a girl called Laura Dekker was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, to a Dutch father and German mother who were keen sailors and nomads.

Laura spent her first five years on boats and sailed solo for the first time at the tender age of six (accompanied by her father, alongside the boat on a windsurfer).

When her parents split in 2002, Laura lived with her father in the Netherlands and sailed often.

At age 14, Laura sailed alone from the Netherlands to England. English authorities were unimpressed and ordered her father to take her home; he told them she was fine to sail alone, but they placed her in a children's home until he arrived to collect her. He came over, put her in her boat, and flew home alone. 

The same year, Laura decided that she'd like to sail solo around the world and announced her plan to a Dutch newspaper, with the support of her father. It would be a two-year voyage, sailing westwards from Portugal, with tracking onboard and support people meeting her along the way. She would continue her school studies via correspondence.

Dutch officials initially objected to her sailing alone, as 16 is the minimum age for solo boating in the Netherlands, but eventually after months of court battles they agreed to let her parents make the call. (Laura has since told the media that the official opposition she faced was far scarier than any perceived threat of storms, pirates, mental illness or shipwrecks.)

She set off in 2010, on a 38-foot ketch named Guppy. She started her solo trip from Gibraltar, which is subject to British law, although her departure was kept secret to avoid further media hoopla. Suddenly, she was alone.

Laura kept a diary during her travels, recording the soothing view of stunning sunsets as she played her guitar on deck, and the onslaught of dramatic storms with waves up to eight metres high. Along the way she encountered pods of dolphins, stingrays, whales (one almost upturned her boat) and even the odd shark. She stopped at enviable and exotic locations, including the Galapagos Islands and Tahiti. She lost track of time, enjoyed her own company, and faced each challenge calmly. She also relished the feeling of arriving at new places, knowing she'd gotten there on her own.

After two years of sailing via the Panama Canal and the Pacific (view the full route on her website), she completed her circumnavigation in 2012, aged 16.

But that was not the end of Laura's adventures; she has sailed to many lands since then and is now married and based in New Zealand. She's also written an autobiography, One Girl One Dream.