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Dutch teen completes year-long solo sailing journey around world

Dutch Sailor Laura Dekker

In this file photo dated Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010 Laura Dekker hoists a flag of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on her boat in the harbor of Den Osse, southwest Netherlands. The 14-year-old Dutch girl will try to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world when she sets off from Portugal on Saturday Aug. 21, 2010. Laura Dekker's ambition of completing the yearlong trip has fueled a global debate over the wisdom of allowing young sailors to take on the tremendous risks of sailing the high seas alone.

A teenager from the Netherlands sailed into St. Maarten harbor on Saturday, ending a yearlong solo journey around the globe aboard a ketch named "Guppy."

Dozens of people cheered as Laura Dekker pumped her fist into the air in celebration while sailing past a drawbridge raised for her arrival in the port from which she set out on Jan. 20, 2011.

Dekker marked her 16th birthday during the trip and claims she is the youngest sailor to complete a round-the-world voyage. The Guinness World Records has said it won't back that up because it no longer recognizes records for youngest sailors to discourage dangerous attempts.

Several Dutch officials tried to block her trip, arguing she was too young to risk her life. School authorities have complained she should be in a classroom.

The last leg of the journey took Dekker through high seas and heavy winds from Cape Town, South Africa.

She hugged her family and wept before addressing the crowd.

Dekker says she was born aboard a boat and first sailed solo at age 6. At 10, she said, she began dreaming about circling the globe.

"Her story is just amazing," said one of Dekker's fans, 10-year-old Jody Bell of Connecticut. "I can't imagine someone her age going out on sea all by herself."

Bell was in St. Maarten on a work trip with her mother, Deena Merlen, an attorney in Manhattan, who wanted to see Dekker complete her journey. The two wore T-shirts that read: "Guppy rocks my world."

"My daughter and I have been following Laura's story, and we think it's amazing and inspiring," Merlen said.