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Manager: Dutch teen sets sail on solo world trip

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[August 21, 2010]  PORTIMAO, Portugal (AP) -- A 14-year-old Dutch sailor departed from Portugal Saturday on her quest to become the youngest person to sail around the world solo, according to her manager.

HardwarePeter Klarenbeek said Laura Dekker had set off despite almost windless conditions from a Portuguese port that he would not specify "because she did not want to speak to the media."

Klarenbeek said Laura was in a very good mood as she set off on her yearlong trip to circumnavigate the globe.

Child protection authorities have questioned the wisdom of allowing a child to take on the risk of sailing the world's oceans alone, but Laura says she has the navigating skills and endurance of an adult.

Laura had been scheduled to depart from the town of Portimao and media from around the world had gathered to record her, but by noon local time no one had seen her or her red-hulled ship.

The young sailor's website has links titled "My Coordinates" and "Where is Laura." Neither was working and a porthole-shaped counter of the days of her voyage was at zero.

Voyage sponsor Ferry Dammers turned up at Portimao with a banner to display on board Laura's boat as it left.

"I am disappointed, I have the banner here but when I spoke to Klarenbeek he informed me Laura had already set off on her journey," Dammers said.

A court last month released Laura from the guardianship of Dutch child protection agencies who had tried to block her voyage because of fears about her safety and psychological health.

Marijke Schaaphok, the director of Masmedia, a company filming the trip with remote cameras mounted on Laura's boat, defended the girl's push to sail around the world, saying Laura is mature for her age and has proven that she can sail "Guppy" across oceans after passing a maritime exam in the Netherlands for a vessel of her boat's size.

Furthermore, she said Laura is uniquely qualified for the ambitious sea venture.

"She grew up with her father on a boat so she's completely different from a normal 14-year-old girl," Schaaphok said. "She's very wise and a little bit impatient, but she's a very nice girl and she knows exactly what she wants."

Laura's first port of call after leaving Portugal was to be Spain's Canary Islands or Portugal's Madeira Islands, both far out in the Atlantic. The choice of destination will depend on wind conditions.

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Laura took several steps to reduce objections to her voyage after the authorities stepped in last year. She got a bigger, sturdier boat than the one she originally planned to use, took courses in first aid and practiced coping with sleep deprivation. The girl also made a solo trip across the North Sea to England.

The Dutch court ruled that her preparations were adequate and it was up to her parents, who are divorced, to decide whether to let her make the attempt.

In June, American Abby Sunderland, 16, had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during an attempt to circle the globe. Earlier this year, Australian Jessica Watson, completed a 210-day voyage at age 16.

But while Watson remained at sea nonstop, Laura plans to stop at dozens of ports and may even return home to catch up on her studies before resuming her trip.

If Laura completes the voyage, any record she claims would be unofficial and likely to be challenged. The Guinness' World Records and the World Sailing Speed Record Council have decided they will no longer recognize records for "youngest" sailors, to avoid encouraging dangerous attempts.

[Associated Press; By FILIPE BENTO]

Associated Press writers Harold Heckle in Madrid, and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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