AMSTERDAM – The mother of a 13-year-old who hopes to become the youngest sailor to circle the globe solo broke her silence Saturday, saying the voyage was too dangerous and her daughter was "not yet grown up" enough.
Babs Muller was quoted in the Volkskrant daily as saying she has kept quiet until now because her daughter, Laura Dekker, had threatened not to see her again if she stood in the way of the trip.
Laura's parents are divorced, and she lives with her father, Dick Dekker, who supports her ambition to set sail this year for a trip that would take two years.
A court last week ordered Laura placed in the custody of child care authorities for two months, and appointed a child psychologist to report on her capacity to cope with the risks of the voyage and possible harm of lengthy isolation during such formative years.
A spokeswoman for Laura and her father said Muller's comments came as a surprising reversal. Muller had earlier told the child protection authorities that the trip was "scary," but that she was not opposed, said Mariska Woertman. The interview was Muller's first public comment.
"Of course she was worried, but she supported the plans of her daughter," Woertman said.
The mother's opposition is likely to weigh heavily on the judge who must consent to the trip, since Laura would miss two years of mandatory schooling. But Woertman said the interview doesn't end Laura's hopes of undertaking the trip and that she is continuing preparations with her 26-foot (8-meter) boat, Guppy.
Muller told the paper Laura has the technical capability to make the trip, but that the teenager is not yet mature enough to deal with the psychological challenges of two years of being on her own.
"If it were up to me, Laura wouldn't go," Muller told the paper.
"She can sail like the devil, that's not the problem," she said. But Laura "is not yet grown up."
Dekker was in court Aug. 28 for the decision but did not speak to reporters. Muller, who is a German citizen living in the Netherlands, did not attend the hearing on Laura's case.
Since the ruling Laura has continued to live with her father and attend school.
Muller said she decided to speak out despite Laura's threat.
"It breaks my heart that I may lose contact with her. I have never in my life had to make such a difficult decision," she was quoted as saying. "But I would rather have a living daughter whom I do not see than a dead daughter."
She said she also was worried about Laura's safety in ports in some developing countries.
Woertman said Laura "was surprised and disappointed" by Muller's interview, "but understands her mother's emotions." She said Muller had exaggerated the fear of losing touch with her daughter, and that Laura had never threatened to sever contact.
If she were to set off on the voyage and successfully complete it, Laura would break a record set one week ago by 17-year-old Mike Perham of Britain, who sailed 28,000 miles in nine months.
Muller and Dekker sailed the world together for seven years, and Laura spent her first four years on a boat. She was born in New Zealand.
Speaking last month to a Dutch children's news show, Laura said she had been sailing solo since she was 6 years old and began dreaming of sailing around the world when she was 10.
"I asked my parents if I could — please — start now," she said.
"In the beginning, they asked if I was sure I really wanted to do it," she said. "They have sailed around the world so they know what could happen and that it's not always fun, but I realize that too. But I really wanted to do it so my parents said, 'Good, we'll help you."'