Sailor Laura Dekker learned how to keep a cool head early on in life.
Dekker – well known for sailing the world by herself at age 14 – capsized in a small boat when she was a child. Trapped underneath the boat, her air was running out.
She panicked and couldn’t free herself from the ropes tangled around her legs. Her dad had to dive in and rescue her.
“This is the only way to learn this, don’t panic,” he told her when she was ashore.
At age 22, sailing is second nature to Dekker. The Whangarei-based sailor has stopped off Wellington to sound the cannon at the start of the 24 Hour Endurance Yacht Race this weekend.
For the 15 crews taking part in the second annual race, they won’t quite be up against the same challenges as Dekker has faced, but they will be in for the long haul, racing each other in laps around Wellington Harbour.
“It’s not as long, but you are still challenging yourself.”
The crews will be starting from Seaview Marina at 12pm. The wining team will be the one that covers the most distance in the allotted 24 hours.
Dekker was excited about the race because, after all, “any sailing is good”.
She was born on a boat when her Dutch parents docked in Whangerai during a seven-year sailing trip. She was 6-years-old when she started sailing by herself.
Dekker has been tied to the sea ever since, and famously circumnavigated the globe by herself when she was just 14-years-old, taking one year and five months to complete the journey.
She sailed across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, stopped at places like the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti and Cape Town.
She finished it all by the time she was 16.
“I really like to have that experience alone because I think you learn a lot,” she said.
“With other people, it’s easy to say ‘oh I’m tired, I don’t want to do this, can you help?’ But when you’re alone, you challenge yourself a lot more. You really get to know yourself and your limits.”
It was hard to explain why she loved sailing so much, Dekker said. She did it for the personal challenge, the “mere beauty” of being at sea and having the space to reflect on life.
Sailing had not changed in a thousand years, she said. It is still a person taking to the water in a small boat to risk the elements.
For now, Dekker is living in Whangarei and has started a marine electrical apprenticeship. She hopes to open a school on a ship, similar to the Spirit of Adventure.