What were you doing when you were a teenager? Going to school? Playing video games? Goofing off? Well, when Laura Dekker was 14, she sailed around the world. Alone.
The film Maidentrip follows her on the solo journey around the globe and also gives a glimpse into the earlier journey that led her to embark: how she spent most of her childhood on and around boats, how she refurbished her own vessel, how she had to fight the courts for ten months to be allowed to go the trip by herself. Indeed, the state wanted to remove her from parents and even potentially commit her for even vocalizing her desire to make the trip. From the public, she received both encouragement and messages hoping she would die out there. It was a traumatic experience, forcing a girl who wanted to sail alone into an extremely stressful public spectacle, but Dekker weathered only stronger and wiser.
Over the course of two years, Dekker circumnavigates the globe following a schedule that allows her to make stops and enjoy many sights along the way. The trip which spans the the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, even making her way around the treacherous Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Dekker filmed much of her trip herself while underway, which gives an inspiring first hand account of what it is like to undertake such a trying and rewarding voyage.
We also come to know about Dekker as a person, seeing her age and become a woman before our eyes. She is very strong-willed, assertive and independent. The film reveals that because of her parents’ divorce and the long hours that her father had to work, Dekker had to learn how to take care of herself from a rather young age. Having grown up on and around boats, it’s not so great a leap to find her interested in sailing on her own. It is clear that she cares for those close to her and for special people she meets along her way, but she is not sentimental about it.
As mature as she may be at times, there are other times when we are reminded she is still a teenage girl. She dances around to rock music. She dyes her hair different colors. She quibbles with her parents and is undeniably rude to a journalist interviewing her. These contrasts raise some interesting questions about what it means to be young and independent. On the one hand, it is great that Dekker is so self-sufficient, that she knows she can get by on her own without too much trouble (if we ignore the fact she was reliant on sponsors to fund most of her trip). These are skills that will serve her her whole life through.
But what about how important it is to be able to get along with people? Humans are a social species, some individuals more or less so than others. She has her boat and seems content. Her parents did not agree with her or each other at first regarding trip. (The authorities certainly didn’t.) They all learn to let go and accept the risk and Dekker’s sovereign choices for herself before the trip begins, and over the course of it Dekker gains a full sense of independence. However, it is clear that she still needs human contact or—as she puts it matter-of-factly—at least someone else there with whom one can witness the beauty of the world because it makes it just that much better.
Maidentrip is playing at Siff from now until March 6. For ticket and showtime information, click here. Directed by Jillian Schlesinger