But youngest-ever circumnavigator won't get official recognition

Dutch teenager Laura Dekker sailed into the Caribbean island of St Maarten yesterday to become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.

Met by her family on the harbourside, she faced the press moments after stepping ashore, saying: ‘I can’t really take in what I’ve done.’

Her 11.5m Jeanneau Gin Fizz ketch, Guppy, took the young sailor across 43,500 miles of ocean, as Laura tried to keep up with her schoolwork while enduring storms and the threat of piracy.

At 16 years and four months, Laura – who was born on a boat off New Zealand – is nearly eight months younger than the person whose ‘record’ she took. Australian Jessica Watson was close to her 17th birthday when she claimed the title in 2010.

However Laura, who completed the circuit in a year and a day, will – like Jessica – not get official recognition for her feat.

Neither world sailing authorities nor Guinness World Records still recognise new records by the youngest circumnavigators, in hope of discouraging such attempts after widespread concern over their safety. The trigger for this is said to be Laura’s own announcement of intent, when just 13.

Britain’s Mike Perham is the last person to be officially recognised by Guinness with his 2008-2009 solo circumnavigation at age 17. Like his, Laura Dekker’s sail was with stops and assisted. Jessica Watson made it round without stops and unassisted but her southerly route left her just shy of the minumum required mileage.

Laura’s record attempt nearly failed to launch as, amid family disagreement over her ambitions, she fled abroad, prompting the Dutch authorities to ban her plans. The determined teenager took on the courts and won, and went on to write a book about the two-year legal battle.

Disillusioned with her homeland, Laura is reportedly now planning to head south, and may use her New Zealand passport (she has dual citizenship) to continue sailing on her own terms. She has said she hopes eventually to work in conservation.

Video: EuroNews/YouTube  Photo: Savyasachi/Wikimedia

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Jessica Watson due home on Saturday