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Dutch teen completes historic, controversial solo sail around the globe

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:29 AM EST, Mon January 23, 2012
16-year-old Laura Dekker arrives in the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on January 21 after her voyage around the globe.
16-year-old Laura Dekker arrives in the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Maarten on January 21 after her voyage around the globe.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Laura Dekker was at sea or in port for 518 days, her website states
  • She traversed 27,000 nautical miles before docking in Sint Maarten
  • The teen fought efforts by Dutch authorities who didn't want her to sail

(CNN) -- Some 518 days after she first set off alone in her sailboat, 16-year-old Laura Dekker glided into a Caribbean port on Saturday to complete her historic, and controversial, voyage around the globe.

The Dutch citizen arrived in Sint Maarten around 3 p.m. (2 p.m. ET), her spokesman Anton Van de Koppel told CNN. And a picture linked from Dekker's official website Saturday shows her standing behind a group of children holding a sign, "Congratulations Laura Dekker ... Welcome back to St. Maarten."

While other teens have made similar sea voyages -- some of them without stopping, as Dekker did -- the Dutch girl unofficially appears to be the youngest to do so sailing alone. In 2010, Australian Jessica Watson finished a non-stop, unassisted solo circumnavigation days before her 17th birthday.

But sailing journalists have said, and her team didn't dispute, that her route was less than 21,600 orthodromic (or, in the same direction for a great circle) nautical miles, which is the length of the equator and the distance generally used for round-the-world sailing records.

Dekker states on her website that she traversed about 27,000 nautical miles on her own solo voyage aboard her 38-foot yacht, which she has dubbed Guppy. She was 14 when she began August 21, 2010, in Gibraltar and then headed west across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, through the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, and ultimately to her final destination in the Caribbean.

The trip almost didn't happen -- not because of problems at sea, but rather due to a high-profile legal fight by Dutch authorities to prevent the teen from setting sail, for her own safety.

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In August 2009, Dekker was put under state care for two months, following her parents' refusal to prevent her from undertaking the voyage.

Here I am having almost circumnavigated the whole world. Yes, that idea is slowly sinking in... But I don't really believe it.
Laura Dekker

Then, in October 2009, a Dutch court ruled the girl couldn't sail around the world because she was not considered experienced enough to do so. But it left the door open for a future trip, deciding that she could depart if she fulfilled certain requirements the court had established for her.

"As a 13-year-old girl, it was never my intention to be the center of world news," Dekker wrote on her blog three days before docking in Sint Maarten.

"Now, after sailing around the world, with difficult port approaches, storms, dangerous reefs, and the full responsibility of keeping myself and the Guppy safe, I feel that the nightmares the Dutch government organizations put me through, were totally unfair," she added.

16-year-old circumnavigates the globe

Dekker made stops in numerous coastal sites during her trip, in places such as the Galapagos Islands, Bora Bora and Cape Town, South Africa. According to multiple published reports, including in the St. Maarten newspaper Today, she had once planned to return to Gibraltar by going through the Suez Canal, but altered her route and headed around South Africa toward Sint Maarten to avoid pirates.

The day before docking for the last time, she reflected on the early days of her voyage, including her initial time in the Caribbean more than a year earlier.

"It feels like it was just yesterday but at the same time it seems like it was an eternity ago," wrote Dekker, who was actually born on a boat in port in New Zealand. "Back then I had no idea I would be back now with a life load of new experiences and 27,000 nautical miles under Guppy's keel.

"But here I am having almost circumnavigated the whole world. Yes, that idea is slowly sinking in... But I don't really believe it."

CNN's Sherri Maksin contributed to this report.

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