young guns

Brian Hancock takes a look back at some impressive sailor chicks…

I watched a really great movie last night. Maidentrip, a documentary about Laura Dekker and her solo circumnavigation to become the youngest person ever to make a lap of the planet. It was great on so many levels but what resonated with me most was that when I was a teenager I read the book Dove by Robin Lee Graham, the California kid who set off at 16 to become the youngest person ever to sail alone around the world. I could not get enough of the book and a series of articles that came out in National Geographic, but when the movie came out with Deborah Raffin playing a starring role I was as good as gone. She was everything I dreamed of; long hair, hazel eyes and legs that wouldn’t quit. The book and the movie propelled me off the couch, out the door and around the world multiple times. As I watched Maidentrip I was wondering if Laura’s story would still have the same effect on a teenage boy these days.

I had forgotten the controversy that occurred in Holland when she announced her circumnavigation plans. She was only 14 at the time and a Dutch court stepped in and prevented her from departing, but she won out in the end and set off. When she returned she was 16 years and a handful of months old, still a kid by any measure. She was a few months younger than the previous record holder, the Australian girl Jessica Watson who had solo circumnavigated non-stop via the great southern capes including Cape Horn.

To sail around the world, alone, is a mammoth accomplishment. It’s not easy for so many reasons from the vagaries of wind and weather to the brutal loneliness of complete isolation for extended periods. It takes guts, luck and a special kind of determination to stick with it especially when things get tough. Dekker and Watson both stuck with it and they have my full admiration. (unlike the bimbo poseur Abby Sunderland – ed)

The Guinness Book of World Records, however, no longer has my admiration. Guinness refuses to track the “world’s youngest” attempts so as to not encourage foolhardy behavior. I don’t think what Dekker or Watson did was foolhardy. We have to understand certain things. When you think of a 13, or even 16 year old girl don’t use as your reference the teenagers you normally see frequenting Starbucks at the mall. Some children are different and so much more mature. Dekker was born on a boat and was just 6 when she did her first solo sail. People that grow up living a life of adventure, many of them home schooled, are just so much more worldly than their peers. Dekker and Watson are phenomenal people and their dreams and determination should be celebrated as a pure vein of the human spirit. I say we need a lot more Dekkers and Watsons than we do mall-goers.

The last thing I want to point out is that it has not escaped me that Dekker and Watson are both females. I have been sailing long enough to know (and it’s still true today) when girls were considered so inferior to us men that there was absolutely no place for them on a boat. Ellen MacArthur, who came second in the brutally tough Vendée Globe solo, non-stop around the world race, proved once and for all that women are more than equal, and in many cases far superior than us men. Laura Dekker and Jessica Watson continue to prove that women can do what we for so long thought impossible. How arrogant of men to think this way. And how arrogant are those that would condemn her parents for daring to allow their daughter to dream. I read one online comment that lamented the fact that she had lost a year of school. She may have lost a year of school but she gained a lifetime of memories and along the way inspired a new generation of dreamers, myself included.

Be sure to check out Brian’s excellent website