Laura Dekker’s Extraordinary, Solitary Dream
DIRECTOR: JILLIAN SCHLESINGER/2014/Dutch & English
Laura Dekker was an extraordinary Dutch girl who, on screen, grows into an extraordinary young woman in Jillian Schlesinger’s documentary, Maidentrip. At only 13 Dekker and her father won a court case enabling her to pursue a dream that seemed dangerous to child protection workers and impossible to many observers. Laura wanted to be the youngest person to sail around the world, solo. No crew, no follow boat; only Laura, her 40 foot sailboat Guppy, and a hand held camera to document the trip.
Maidentrip is the result, and it’s a wondrous film. Laura herself is a fascinating character, sometimes seeming like a petulant and spoiled teenager, but far more often like a remarkably centered, competent and self assured young adult. The strange dynamics of her family – in which her single father is so supportive of her goal that he’s able to send her off, to certain danger, before she’s even 15 years old – are a backdrop and only partly explained. How many parents could bear to do that? How many would consider it responsible parenting? If Laura Dekker’s story had ended badly her father’s decision would seem disastrously unwise in retrospect. But it didn’t end badly: Dekker became the youngest person to sail around the world when she completed her journey in January 2012.
That’s not really a spoiler, since many people remember hearing about Dekker. What Maidentripaccomplishes is to expand our vision of Dekker. She was not simply a prodigy and her accomplishment was most certainly not a stunt. Dekker records interminable days with no wind, and nights with terrifying storms – or what look like terrifying storms, since they only demonstrate Dekker’s remarkable focus. For an amateur camerawoman, Dekker also does a fine job of showing us the beauty, scope and spiritual power of the ocean.
As the journey continues, though, Dekker finds herself relishing the long stretches of uninterrupted sailing. The solitude suits her, and watching “Maidentrip” I found myself envying her self sufficiency and peacefulness.
Dekker made the decision not to sail non-stop because she wanted to see the world, and this, too, is part of the pleasure of Maidentrip: watching her explore the Canary Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Polynesia. As the journey continues, though, Dekker finds herself relishing the long stretches of uninterrupted sailing. The solitude suits her, and watching Maidentrip I found myself envying her self sufficiency and peacefulness. History is packed with people who follow the normal trajectory through life – schooling, career, marriage, parenting. But in every generation there are people who seem immune to the trajectory, who insist on taking their own paths. The teenage Laura Dekker was such a person. She was also, somehow, a playful teen, dancing for the camera and dying her hair bright red on one of her stopovers. The documentary uses whimsically animated maps to show Dekker’s journey and they add a lightness to what is in many ways a profound spiritual journey. “Time didn’t exist anymore,” Dekker says after one particular long stretch at sea. “I loved being alone….freedom is when you’re not attached to anything.”
Schlesinger deserves great credit for mapping Dekker’s personal growth over the 17 months of her journey. Laura’s face changes, becoming visibly more mature before our eyes. But her soul is changing, too, as she comes to the end of childhood and “the beginning of my life as a sailor.”