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Dutch teen Laura Dekker sets sail on solo circumnavigation attempt

August 21, 2010 |  8:52 am

Laura Dekker is pictured on her boat, Guppy. Dekker, 14, began her round-the-world record bid from Portugal Saturday.

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker has reportedly left Portugal on her attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

The Associated Press reports that Dekker, 14, departed in secrecy aboard her 38-foot sailboat, Guppy, from an undisclosed Portugal port Saturday, avoiding the media because her manager said she didn't want the attention.

Dekker said goodbye to her father and friends and left en route to either Spain's Canary Islands or Portugal's Madeira Island, depending on the winds, according to manager Peter Klarenbeek.

Adding to the secrecy of the departure is Dekker's website, which features links titled "My Coordinates" and "Where is Laura," but neither was working Saturday, and a porthole-shaped counter of the days of her voyage still stood at zero.

Dekker's trek has been surrounded by controversy even while in the planning stages. The Dutch sailor had hoped to set sail on a voyage around the world last year, but her mother voiced strong objections, while her father supported the trip -- the parents are separated -- and the courts intervened and placed her under the guardianship of a child welfare agency. On July 20, the court released her from state guardianship.

The trip comes on the heels of the failed attempt by 16-year-old Abby Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who was rescued from the Indian Ocean in June after her sailboat rolled in high seas and lost its mast, forcing Sunderland to activate emergency locating beacons and initiating a rescue mission from Australia.

Earlier this year, Australian Jessica Watson successfully completed her solo around-the-world sail at age 16, returning to Australia's Sydney Harbor in May after seven months at sea.

Rather than attempting a non-stop circumnavigation, Dekker plans to stop at dozens of ports and may even return home to catch up on her studies before resuming her trip.

If Dekker completes the voyage, any record she claims would be unofficial probably and is likely to be challenged. Both the World Sailing Speed Record Council and Guinness World Records state that they no longer recognize records for "youngest sailors" to avoid encouraging dangerous attempts.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Laura Dekker aboard her boat, Guppy. Dekker, 14, began her round-the-world record bid from Portugal Saturday. Credit: Marco de Swart / AFP / Getty Images