Teen sailor Laura Dekker has safely negotiated the treacherous Torres Strait and arrived into Australian waters, but only after a tense overnight period during which strong winds ripped apart one of her sails. The 100-mile-wide passage between northeastern Australia and New Guinea is strewn with shallow reefs and sandbars and represents a major challenge for mariners and particularly solo-sailors, who must be on constant vigil.
“There were reefs everywhere but I could hardly see anything because it was getting dark,” the 15-year-old Dutch adventurer wrote on her blog. “I adjusted my course so I would be sailing even closer to the wind. Would this work? Guppy sliced right through the waves under Genoa [sail] and reefed mainsail.
“The Genoa had a hard time of it with its taped tears and holes — would it last through the night? Rrrrrrippp! Without having to look I had my answer…. I rolled in the Genoa and rolled out the storm-jib and so I kept sailing very close to the wind as we went between all the reefs.”
The passage comes a full year after Dekker departed from Gibraltar as a 14-year-old on Aug. 21, 2010, on a highly controversial mission to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone. It also marks the successful crossing of the Pacific; Dekker had previously crossed the Atlantic.
The fiercely determined sailor, now 15, will make port for an extended stay in Darwin, Australia. Her father will meet her; she’ll complete repairs and re-provision before attempting to traverse the Indian Ocean, which represents her final major crossing.
That may not be as accommodating as the Pacific or Atlantic; the Indian Ocean was downright unkind to other young sailors who have sailed or attempted to sail around the world during the past two-plus years.
Southern California’s Zac Sunderland, who completed a circumnavigation in July of 2009, spent three sleepless days and nights trying to prevent his boat from being battered by rigging torn loose by gale-force winds. He also was confronted by people aboard a flag-less boat who seemed to be gauging whether he had anything of value.
England’s Mike Perham and Australia’s Jessica Watson also experienced long bouts of ferocious wind in the ocean between Australia and Africa.
Zac’s sister Abby Sunderland, as many recall, was rescued deep in the southern Indian Ocean after losing her mast and rigging in rough seas, as she was attempting an easterly crossing with the Southern Hemisphere winter setting in.
So far, Dekker and a home-based team led by her father, have done just about everything right in terms of timing and vessel preparation. She has experienced no major issues with the weather or with Guppy, her 38-foot twin-masted sailboat.
Renowned Australian adventurer Don McIntyre, asked last week about the girl’s odyssey, answered: “She is setting her own pace, on her own terms. This all gives her the best chance to succeed and helps her make her own luck. In this game ‘luck’ is everything, but she is doing what’s needed to minimize risk, and making sound value judgments by being conservative.”
Critics had contended that, besides being too young to handle the rigors of solo-sailing, Dekker was too immature to deal with long bouts of loneliness and an irregular sleep schedule.
She said this week that this lifestyle “is all I want” and, when asked how she passes her idle time, she responded: “I read a lot and look out over the endless powerful nature that’s around me. I sleep when I feel like it and cook.”
That said, she still has a long, long way to go.
— Images of Laura Dekker and her 38-foot sailboat are courtesy of Laura Dekker