Voiles et Voiliers no 494-avril 2012

This report was first published in issue 494 of Voiles et Voiliers magazine, april 2012. We would like to thank Mr.Jean-Luc GOURMELEN  and Mr Didier Ravon at Voiles et Voiliers magazine, for the permission to translate and to publish this report.

Thomas Weber

[ ] Remarks between brackets  are Translator Notes.

Voiles et Voiliers
Issue 494, april 2012
Voiles et Voiliers
Issue 494, april 2012


Mavericks – but likeminded!
By Didier Ravon

Laura playing her guitar

She has just sailed around the world solo at 16 and a half years old aboard a carefully prepared Gin Fizz, but Laura with her extraordinary determination still is a normal teenager!Relaxed: At 16 and a half years, Laura Dekker has just finished her world circumnavigation. Because of problems with the Dutch authorities, the flag of New Zealand, Laura’s country of birth, is flying on her Gin Fizz.

Laura was only sixteen and a half years old when she successfully completed her sailing trip around the world. But it will not be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records since the famous institution refuses to recognize records set up ​​by minors. Born in Wangarei (New Zealand) when her parents were traveling the world on their sailboat, Laura Dekker has probably never envisioned a life other than at sea. When she was twelve [thirteen?] she had already crossed the English Channel alone. At fourteen she decided to circumnavigate the world singlehandedly! At that age, the idea of ​​a circumnavigation was a shocking proposition and lead to the postponement of her journey by a Court of Justice order of a court  at the request of the child protection services in the Netherlands. Many a youngster would then have stayed in school but not Laura. The case was settle in Court a few months later. It’s hard to believe that her family tried to discourage her from sailing off at first but then gave her a strong support, most notably her father, himself an experienced sailor. Eventually Laura the rebel purchased a sturdy 37-foot cruising boat - a Jeanneau Gin Fizz built seventeen years before she was even born. Because of its maneuverability and balance under sail, that ketch was very well-liked back in the 1980s. Laura’s father focused on preparing the boat for the safety of her skipper and so made some minor changes. Laura took care of the inside and the decoration. Nothing was forgotten and special attention was given to the sails - it was decided to keep twelve sails on board including three mainsails but no spinnaker!
After 366 days’ of her journey around the world and many stopovers the teenager stepped ashore in the Caribbean where she had started it. Always present her father supervised the public relation and the many requests for interviews and exclusive TV appearances. The petite girl said that she would like to write a book and then head on to her native land to settle down! Instead of trying to explain the reasons that have pushed a teenager to go on a circumnavigation like Moitessier - questions that do come to mind at first- let’s take a tour of Laura’s boat  and learn about its preparation.



Text and photos by Jean-Luc Gourmelen

At just 16 and a half Laura Dekker just completed a flawless world trip via the Panama Canal and the Cape of Good Hope. Upon her arrival in St. Martin she showed us around her Gin Fizz named Guppy. Thanks to a carefull preparation, choices based on safety, and without an overload of technical equipment, the 33 years old ketch boat has remained undamaged. A resume and pictures.

Juppe arrière
Swimming platform
It was very well made by the previous owner and increases the waterline length by one meter, enough to set up a sturdy aluminum targa frame for two solar panels and make space for the wind vane self-steering (Windpilot). A lift with four ropes makes it easy to move the outboard engine. The base of the platform rests on a protective neoprene that is glued on the corners. The life raft’s casing is fixed to the stern railing and can be handled easily.


Guppy is a ketch, but its original main mast was changed by the previous owner. Longer and different in shape it is more like the mast on the sloop version of the Gin Fizz and can carry a dozen square meters more of sail area. It has a truss on the second spreader and running backstays. The lower stay has been moved behind the anchor compartment and a chain plate is attached to the back wall (pictured right). The staying rigs were entirely changed before departure and the also new running rigging (halyards, sheets, hoists) hasn’t changed in color and shows only  a little wear. Between the two lower stays at the portside of the main mast Laura has put a rope ladder that provides her with a good spotting place especially to identify reefs and atolls in the Pacific Ocean.

Anchor compartment 
No electric winch but a simple Goïot  winch [French manufacturer of deck equipment], so the lifting and lowering has to be done by muscular strength! The main anchor is a 35 pounds CQR [secure plough anchor] with a 40 meters  chain  that only 10 metres have ever been slipped. There is a second and slightly smaller CQR anchor that has been used once in the Marquesas Islands.

Safran et barre de secours
 Emergency tiller and rudder
The rudder has been reinforced and extended by 20 centimeters. When the Gib'Sea 38 rudder- the sister ship of the 37 and Gin Fizz made out the same casting mold and designed by Michel Joubert - was introduced, it also was modified like that that. In direct contact with the rudder shaft, which crosses the stern, the emergency tiller is positioned on top of it. Efficient but not very aesthetic but a matter of security: when a furling or pulley in the steering system is failing, it rarely does in good weather, beautiful sea or in port!

Deck equipment
Except for a few blocks almost all the deck hardware is original! And nothing broke during the world tour.
Of course, winches, pulleys, sheaves and nuts have been dismantled, checked and cleaned but there was no need to replace them.

Deux moteurs
Two engines The original Volvo Penta was replaced with a brand new one (D2 40, 38 horse power) with the same output but less weight and smaller which freed some space in the engine room for a second engine (Yanmar 1 GM 10, 10 horse power) complete with a separate shaft and a separate tank. So in case of a failure of the Volvo (trouble with the fuel or with the propeller...), the Yanmar can be started up immediately. Since it consumes only a small amount of fuel, Laura has favored it in times of light winds and together with the sails it makes travelling a lot more comfortable. With 100 liters [26 gallons] fuel tank for the Yanmar engine and a 150 liters [40 gallons] tank for the Volvo engine and 100 liters [26 gallons] stored in jerrycans, Guppy has a range of 800 to 900 nautical miles [1482 to 1667 kilometres or 921 to 1036 land miles].

Le carré
It’s a real teen room! With photos and magazine pages cut and pinned to the walls, a collection of stuffed animals, books, course books and books about the sea... Laura also wanted red cushions. The cabin‘s woodwork is like new eventhough the varnish has aged over the years. The berth on portside is Laura’s favourite spot where she can wedge herself in-between the backrest and the table.

La cuisine
Cooking is not really Laura’s thing so the galley has remained unchanged - when asked about her favorite food she replies "Spaghetti with tomato sauce!" She is not very fond of meat or fish - so It’s enough to boil water, cook pasta and rice or to reheat canned food.

Poste avant
Bow cabin
No door to the bathroom and no shower either. "I'm all alone, so what for?" The forward cabin is only used when friends come over on a visit, and the rest of the time it is used for storing two guitars, some bags and clothing.

Cabine arrière
Stern cabin 
Storage for all the stuff - needed or not  - for such a journey: a dinghy, a bike, a manually operated pump, an inflatable catamaran, oars, jerrycans, buckets, cutters...

Electric energy
With three 70-watt solar panels and two alternators on each engine, Laura has never lacked energy and has never had to run the engine to charge six batteries. There is no generator or wind turbine or hydrogenerator on board. All incandescent electric lamps were replaced with LEDs. The electric steering devices (one Autohelm 6000, two 3000 and 2000) have hardly been used, unlike the windvane. For the chosen route around the world these were good choices.

Les voiles
With three mainsails, two mizzens, three Genoas, three staysails and a Code Zero it’s enough for any weather! No spinnaker, symmetric or not, and staysails: a deliberate choice. Going downwind Laura sails ‘butterfly‘ [sometimes called ‘goose winged’] with the Genoa, and the staysail or the jib. The rigging of the ketch allows her to play with different combinations of sails to adjust to every wind and sea conditions. She is delighted with the code zero and has used it many times in light winds, as happened in the Indian Ocean and in the doldrums [Intertropical Convergence Zone].

Le pont
The ‘Treadmaster‘ [plank bottom] that was installed by the previous owner is still impeccable. The life line that was installed at the time of departure showed signs of fatigue so Laura installed a new one in Cape Town, leaving the old one in place. All ‘Plexiglas’ windows of the deckhouse were changed before departure.

La table à cartes
Chart table
Not much was changed here in this important place where that Laura spent a lot of time. The electrical panel with its switches and fuse holders is still original. VHF, SSB, radar, GPS, Iridium ... Everything necessary is there without frills. The table is even big enough to allow Laura to unfold a map in Grand Aigle size [‘’Big Eagle“, a old French paper size of 75 × 106 centimetres or so; around 2 x 3 ft.] to record her progress. A toolkit is stored in the trunk of the navigator‘s seat. Depending on the sailing conditions, Laura sleeps in the adjacent berth.



"We kept the old stuff that worked and focused on safety for navigation," Laura and her father explain. Acquired for a little less than 30,000 Euros, Guppy was refitted smartly through partnerships with suppliers (sails, rigging, motor, controller...). Not to mention that Dick Dekker, Laura's father, is a professional with golden hands for who this boat was not like a first. Moreover, he is busy building a wooden/epoxy cutter of 20 meters, which he plans to set sail with across the Pacific Ocean...


Laura’s Gin Fizz in detail

Hull length: 11,40 m [37 ft.]
LWL: 9.15 m [30 ft.]
Maximum width: 3.76 m [12 ft.]
Draught: 1.90 m [6 ft.]
Sail area: 82 m² [883 square ft.]
Displacement: 8 t.
Built by Jeanneau between 1975 and 1984 in 543 units. The casting molds were used to create the Gib'Sea 37 and 38 (51 units between 1979 and 1981). Available either as sloop or ketch version, with a different deck layout and in one version as a light sloop. Very large in those days and rock solidly built, a Gin Fizz is currently traded between 20 000 and 50 000  euros, depending on the shape and version. Guppy was built in 1978 and her current displacement is 11 tons.



A calm teenager

What a nice boat – and all ready to set off. Laura will leave in two days in company of her father, heading for the island of Bonaire. But not with her younger sister who now follows her like a shadow while texting all the time. Unlike Laura, sailing is not her thing.
When 10 years’ old Laura was already the owner of her second boat, a small 6 meters coastal cruiser. With that boat she used to sail the islands of [the Dutch province of] Friesland. Before that she had sailed all over a nearby lake with her Optimist [a small dinghy] every time it was possible. She just loves sailing. Is it because she was born aboard the family sailboat during a stopover in New Zealand after having sailed half the world? No doubt about that. To note, that 45-foot polyester ketch built by her father according to plans by Van de Stadt [a Dutch designer of sailboats], closely resembles the Gin Fizz that Laura later chose for her circumnavigation. There you have it!
Her grandparents discuss about the weather in the cockpit before they start on their return trip after visiting in Sint Maarten. Indeed, Laura Dekker’s circumnavigation is a family affair. And no, this is not a remake of "Little Miss Sunshine" with parents who push their children to achieve the dreams they were unable to accomplish. They even tried to dissuade Laura from it. No chance. When she was 12 years old she crossed the English Channel solo. And at fourtheen she felt ready to go further, much further. But the authorities of her country did not agree. A long legal battle followed and left scars behind. After she won the case, there was only four months left to find a cheap boat and get it ready. Laura‘s family put their hands in their pocket as her father used his hands to refit the boat. On August 4th 2010, Laura set off from the Netherlands, heading for Lisbon [Portimao] in company of her father.

Quick and easily

Her next destinations were Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, St. Maarten, Panama, Galapagos, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Niue, Vanuatu, Darwin, Durban, Cape Town and St. Maarten again... [Note: Laura had planned to sail to Niue but finally dropped that plan]. This rapid round the world tour (366 days from St. Maarten back to St. Maarten) carefully avoided risk areas, cyclones and pirates. And at each stop Laura took the opportunity to do some sightseeing and to make friends. She enjoys sailing her boat, and racing isn’t really her thing. Her trip was unlike those by Mike Perham‘s or Abby Sunderland’s who both sailed around the world on Open 50 feet racing boats. As for Laura it’s more like Tania Aebi and Jessica Watson who completed their world tours with a Contessa 26 for Tania and a S & S [Sparkman & Stephens] 34 for Jessica- simple and solid cruising sailboats. Tania’s book (Maiden Voyage), figures prominently in Guppy‘s library next to Joshua Slocum, and has lose pages for having been read and reread so many times! Laura reads a lot. She plays her guitar, too. She began playing the flute because a flute is more convenient at sea than a guitar.
Laura knows what she wants to do in the future. Even though she appears as a naive teen with bracelets and multicolored fringed cuffs, she has a will like iron. First she wants to finish her book (her second one actually), make some promotion, but not too much, and head West sometime in April, keeping an eye on New Zealand.

Maturity is not a question of age

Not all humans mature the way their grandparents did, some are slow-maturing, others mature quickly. Laura is of the latter and rarer group. Being able to project into the future and knowing how to go about it for a 12 years old is unusual but sure  is not a reason for being ostracized or being held back by the society. She was able to turn her dream into reality, she has gained much maturity and experience, she has enjoyed her long ocean crossings (41 days from Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands, 47 days from Darwin to Durban), but now Laura wants to change for a slower pace and share sailing aboard Guppy, who was her home during her trip around the world. She loved everything and enjoyed everything during her circumnavigation: the horizon for 360 degrees, meetings [other ships/boats or people?], loneliness, sunsets, night shifts, landscapes ... and does not make distinctions between those moments. Even before she set off she knew that the Guinness Book of World Records and the WSSRC [World Sailing Speed Record Council] wouldn’t register a record set up by a minor anymore, regardless of the discipline. That did not prevent her from becoming the youngest person ever to have completed a round the world solo circumnavigation. Of course, this is a great selling point for her upcoming book. Aware of her fame (there were 540 requests for interviews upon her arrival), she seeks to establish a balance between TV shows and privacy. After being followed for three years and finally docked at the Simpson Bay marina , no doubt she will find her best course.

Laura’s trip in numbers

Longest sailed distance in one stretch: 5 800 nautical miles [10 742 kilometres or 6 676 land miles] between Darwin and Durban in 47 days.

Best noon-to-noon run [covered distance in 24 hours]: 194 miles [359 kilometres or 223 land miles].

Worst noon-to-noon run: 40 nautical miles: [74 kilometres or 46 land miles]

Surf max: 11-12 knots [20 to 22 km/h or 12 to 14 land miles an hour] in a "down wave"

Highest current encountered: 5 knots [9 kilometres or 6 land miles an hour] off the south coast of South Africa [Agulhas current].

250 to 300 liters [66 to 79 gallons] of fresh water and many bottles have to be taken aboard prior each crossing. Before each journey the boat is equipped with twice the quantity of food as needed.