What were you doing when you were 14? If you were anything like me, most of your time and energy was probably devoted to coping with the social scene (mean girls; jocks vs. freaks) and academic demands (algebra and geometry) of junior high school, dissecting the latest pop culture offerings with your friends, and questioning the wisdom of your parents and other elders whose version of the world you had been willing to accept not too long ago.
When she was 14, Laura Dekker began a journey that ended two years later and made her the youngest person to sail solo around the world. The trip, as documented in Jillian Schlesinger’s documentary Maidentrip, is really two journeys in one—Dekker and her sailboat circumnavigating the globe, and Dekker growing from an enthusiastic girl who loves to sail to a self-reliant young lady who understands her place in the world and is confident in her ability to meet life’s challenges.
If anyone has ever been born to be a sailor, it must be Laura Dekker. Born on a boat in New Zealand while her parents were sailing around the world, she spent most of her first four years of life on the ocean. Dekker owned her first boat at age six, learning to sail under the tutelage of her shipbuilder father, so she was no average 13-year-old when she announced her plans to sail alone around the world. In fact, she had already completed a solo sail from the Netherlands to England. Still, in most countries children of that age are several years away from being allowed to even drive an automobile alone on a public road, so her plans to sail alone around the world attracted a fair amount of public commentary ranging from encouragement for her ambition to accusations of child abuse directed at her parents.
Dekker’s plans also attracted the attention of the child protection authorities in the Netherlands, where she was living with her father, and at one point it seemed that she might be removed from his custody. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, but she did begin her trip (from the Netherlands) with her father on board, so the solo journey began at Gibraltar. In all, her trip lasted 17 months and covered over 27,000 nautical miles, and was in fact more than a circumnavigation, as she crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice.
Dekker’s trip was a true solo journey—no second boat with a film crew, no trailing boat ready to come to the rescue if she got into trouble. She shot the onboard footage herself, using a Sony Handy Cam, and it’s expertly edited together by Penelope Faulk, who chooses a good mix of direct-to-camera video diary sequences and amazing footage of the natural world as seen from shipboard. Faulk also includes some archival shots of a very young Laura on her first dinghy that only confirm the impression that she was born to be a sailor.
I defy anyone to watch Maidentrip and not fall under the spell of this charming young lady. I’m normally suspicious of “adventures” that sound more like stunts, but it’s clear that setting a record is not Dekker’s intent. She may have set out to be the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe, but she was also determined to experience the trip for its own sake, taking time to visit people (including her mother, who divorced her father when she was a child) and to experience something of the different cultures she passed through along the way. She has her high points and low points, sometimes swearing in frustration or momentarily giving in to despair, but the positive moments predominate, and you get a sense as the journey progresses that she is growing into the person she was always meant to be.
I also defy any viewer to not feel at least some pricking of desire to set off on your own adventure. An animated map helps you keep track of the progress of Dekker and Guppy, her sailboat, while adding a hand-crafted charm totally in keeping with the modest nature of this production. It’s not just that it would be amazing to see the Canary Islands and the Cape of Good Hope and the Galapagos Islands as no mere tourist ever will, it’s also the fact that this kind of journey is almost inevitably also a journey of self-discovery, and that’s something that we never outgrow.
Maidentrip is a beautiful movie, and the soundtrack by Ben Sollee discretely heightens the viewing experience without becoming intrusive. Extras on the DVD are adequate but not spectacular, and include five extended scenes, two time lapse sequences, several unused clips (including one titled “around the world in 180 sounds”), and a photo gallery.