Dutch teenager sets sail from Gibraltar for round-the-world trip

Laura Dekker, 14, aims to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe.

HOLLAND // Dutch solo sailor Laura Dekker, 14, began Saturday her round-the-world record bid from Gibraltar, not Portugal as first announced, her agent was quoted as saying. "She left the harbour of Gibraltar," Marijke Schaaphok, whose television company Masmedia has signed an exclusive rights contract with Dekker, told AFP, saying she had spoken to the teenager's agent Peter Klarenbeek. Schaaphok said Dekker had finally decided to make the British possession at the southern tip of Spain the starting point for her voyage because "the Portuguese police were making problems because of her age." The police had paid a visit at sea while she was making final tests of her boat, the red-hulled, 11.5 metre (38 foot) ketch Guppy, in which she had arrived from the Netherlands in the southern Portuguese port of Portimao a week ago, Schaaphok said. Klarenbeek had told AFP that she would be leaving Portimao on Saturday, but other sailors in the marina said she and her boat had not been seen there since Wednesday. The Portuguese Lusa news agency said Friday the teenager would leave Portimao accompanied by her father because Portuguese law does not allow a minor to sail alone. Port authorities confirmed the regulation. Schaaphok said Dekker would probably be heading for the Spanish Canary Islands or Portugal's Madeira, depending on the wind, arriving in six or eight days. At the end of July the teenager won a 10-month court battle with child welfare authorities who had been preventing the voyage for fear it would stunt Dekker's social and emotional development. The petite blonde wants to break the record for the youngest world solo sail set in May by Australian teen Jessica Watson. Watson completed a non-stop, unassisted round-the-world trip a few days before her 17th birthday. Dekker turns 17 on September 20, 2012, allowing her a little over two years to complete the trip, during which she intends to stop at several ports along the way. She has said her route from Portugal will take her across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Pacific via the Panama Canal. She plans to stop at the Galapagos islands before heading to Australia, Thailand and through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden back to Europe. Born in New Zealand during a round-the-world sailing trip by her parents, Dekker completed her first solo voyage, to the northern Netherlands, at the age of 11. * Agence France-Presse

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