Sure, why not?
The age bar for singlehanding around the world keeps slipping lower. For a long time it was the 20s, then Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks did it at 17 years, 229 days. A few weeks later, Brit Mike Perham — now in search of more fame by wanting to become the youngest to fly solo around the world, too — lowered the barrier to 17 years, 164 days. And most recently Aussie Jessica Watson dropped it all the way down to 16 years, 362 days.
But now, thanks to the blessing of the Dutch courts, little 14-year-old Laura Dekker — who happily poses around her 37-ft Jeanneau Gin Fizz Guppy for press photos in girly pink things like a young Brittany Spears — will be starting her attempt in a couple of weeks. Laura actually wanted to start at age 13, but her mom — we all know what a drag they can be! — was against the idea. So Laura was put under state protective services back in October. Somehow the 13-year-old rascal managed to escape to the sailing hotbed of St. Martin in the West Indies for a few days, but that was so many months ago. Now Dekker’s mother, perhaps finally getting hip to how much fame and money are at stake — Watson has reportedly pulled in close to a million — has, just like the Dutch courts, come around to see a solo circumnavigation as a suitable endeavor for a young girl who is too young to drive a car or enroll in high school.
Hilariously, one person who seemingly would be against Dekker’s attempt is Laurence Sunderland, most famous for sending two of his teens around the world on solo circumnavigation attempts — and who is a self-styled authority of sorts on the difference in childhood development between the ages of 15 and 16. Sunderland reportedly told the L.A. Times, "I wouldn’t let her [Abby, his 16-year-old daughter] go at 13, or at 14, or at 15. There’s a strength factor and they need to be mentally grounded in what this entails. It’s not a frivolous thing. The ocean is terrifying, and you have to be prepared for all the adversities that it throws at you."
[Laurence Sunderland has apparently been less forthcoming with the L.A. Times‘ requests to see records on the sat phone calls between the Sunderlands on land and Abby Sunderland around the time of her dismasting in the Southern Ocean. It’s absolutely outrageous, we know, but apparently some people wonder if, after the dismasting, the Sunderlands hadn’t been in contact with their daughter all along, but didn’t tell anyone — let alone the Australian government that was spending $300,000 to have a Qantas commercial jetliner search for the girl — in an effort to let the worldwide drama build. Sure, Abby’s parents appeared surprisingly composed on television when the fate of their daughter was unknown, but nobody, absolutely nobody — except, of course, for those publicity-hungry Balloon Boy parents — would stoop to anything so low.]
Can the 14-year-old like Dekker complete a singlehanded solo circumnavigation? Probably. A circumnavigation is nothing more than a series of ocean passages, and as Perham proved a few years ago, even a 14-year-old can singlehand across the Atlantic. If the dad is close by in another boat, and if the singlehander spends most of the trip on the phone with family and friends, and if there is a support crew ready to meet the boat at any port where it’s needed — all things that have been done in the past — it’s just that much easier.
We’ve had an 17-year-old, a 16-year-old, we’re working on a 14-year-old — do we hear 10? Please, not all at once.