PORTIMAO, Portugal — A 14-year-old Dutch sailor departed in secrecy from Gibraltar on Saturday on her quest to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world — avoiding the media because, her manager said, she didn't want the attention.
Laura Dekker was in good spirits as she started sailing her 38-foot ship Guppy from the British territory bordering the southwestern tip of Spain, on a trip expected to last a year or more, her manager, Peter Klarenbeek, said.
The attempt has been criticized by Dutch child protection authorities, who questioned the wisdom of a child risking the world's oceans alone. Dekker's departure itself was kept a secret from international media, who descended on Portugal but failed to capture images of it.
"She said goodbye to her father and friends and she sailed away into the horizon," said Holland's MasMedia company, which has exclusive TV rights to film her voyage.
Laura had been scheduled to depart from Portimao, in southwestern Portugal, where she arrived from Holland last week before embarking on final sea trials. But Marijke Schaaphok, MasMedia's director, said the girl ended up leaving from Gibraltar because Portugal only issues permits for sailing ocean vessels to people 18 or older.
The girl is now en route to Spain's Canary Islands or Portugal's Madeira Island, depending on the wind, Schaaphok said. Then she plans to head through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean, and on to Australia, the southern tip of India and through the Suez Canal en route to the Mediterranean.
Laura's website features links titled "My Coordinates" and "Where is Laura," but neither was working Saturday. A porthole-shaped counter of the days of her voyage stood at zero, and the most recent pictures on the site were from Aug. 17 when she was off the coast of Portugal.
The trip comes two months after Abby Sunderland, a 16-year-old American, had to be rescued in 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 Jessica remained at sea nonstop, Laura plans to stop at dozens of ports.