- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

UTRECHT, Netherlands | Dutch judges Friday called a 13-year-old girl’s plan to sail solo around the world “undeniably daring and risky,” but refused to scupper it completely, in a high-profile clash between child care authorities and liberal Dutch parenting.

A panel of three judges at the Utrecht District Court ordered authorities to take temporary guardianship of Laura Dekker, delaying her plan to set sail next week on her 26-foot yacht, the Guppy, and become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

In her first reaction, Laura appeared unconcerned by the ruling.

“I wouldn’t go if I or my boat wasn’t up to it, so things have stayed the same, except it is going to take a little longer,” Laura told Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

The court appointed a child psychologist to report on her capacity to cope with the risks she would face and the possible harm of two years of isolation.

The ruling came a day after 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain grabbed the crown that Laura covets.

After crossing the finish line, the teenage sailor listed some of the physical skills Laura will need to complete her trip.

“It’s whether she’s got the physical strength, the mental strength and the technical ability,” he said. “You know, can she strip an engine blindfolded? You know, can she build boats, is she an electrician, is she a mechanic as well - because you can’t just be a sailor to do a trip like this.”

The Utrecht court will make a final decision in Laura’s case on Oct. 26.

Laura ignored the legal storm swirling around her and took advantage of fresh winds whipping across the Netherlands Friday to go sailing. Her attorney, Peter de Lange, said friends told her about the court’s decision and “she accepted it very positively.”

He said that if Laura gets approval in two months then her record bid would still be on track, although she may have to take her boat to Portugal to avoid autumn storms that regularly lash the Bay of Biscay.

While the judges ordered child care workers to take responsibility for Laura, they stopped short of removing her from her father’s home. They acknowledged he had tried to stop the trip and then to make it as safe as possible.

“This case is about whether the government … can restrict the broad freedom parents have in bringing up and caring for their children,” said presiding Judge M. Oostendorp.

Laura’s father, Dick Dekker, was in court for Friday’s decision but said nothing to a scrum of reporters following the case. He is divorced from Laura’s German mother, who has made no public comment.

Laura was born on a boat in New Zealand and spent the first four years of her life sailing around the world with her parents. She also spends her holidays sailing off the Dutch coast. In May, British authorities briefly detained her after she arrived alone in the eastern port of Lowestoft and said she planned to sail home alone, Mr. de Lange said.

Mike Perham sailed into record books as the world’s youngest round-the-world solo sailor by covering 28,000 miles in just nine months before crossing the finish line off the coast of Cornwall, in southwestern England, on Thursday. A celebration was planned for his arrival Saturday in Portsmouth, England.

Mike is a few months younger than Zac Sunderland, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who claimed the youngest solo crown in July when he completed a similar trip in 13 months.

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