Sailing Solo At 16: Laura Dekker’s ‘Maidentrip’

Written by Rachel Redfern and Megan Kearns.

On Aug. 21, 2010, 14-year-old Laura Dekker sailed out of Den Osse, Netherlands for a two-year circumnavigation of the world, alone. By the time she finished her journey, on Jan. 21, 2012, at the age of only 16, Dekker would be the youngest person to ever sail solo around the world.

Following her journey was documentary filmmaker, Jillian Schlesinger; from film shot while meeting with Dekker at various points in the trip, and sea-voyage scenes filmed by Dekker’s hand-held camera, Schlesinger has produced an emotional coming-of-age story, set as a love letter to the ocean and the transformative experience of encountering a larger world.

Since there were two Bitch Flicks’ staff vying for the opportunity to review Maidentrip, which premieres Friday, Jan. 17, in New York City, writers Rachel Redfern and Megan Kearns teamed up to produce a special conversation-based review, sharing their reactions to the award-winning documentary.

Rachel:  Well first of all, this movie was fantastic! It really hit me on a personal level, since I just returned for two years living abroad in South Korea, and I remember what it was like to really push myself outside of my comfort zone. Watching the changes that Laura goes through and her feelings of loneliness and wonder, it made me relive a lot of my own experiences. But after watching the film, I wanted to go on an adventure again, to leave and challenge myself. Which to me means that it’s a powerful and dynamic film, when it can force audiences to identify with the protagonist, evaluate their own emotions, and then motivate them.

Megan: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!! I completely agree with you. I thought Maidentrip was fantastic too. The film really struck a chord with me on multiple levels. I thought it was incredible to be able to view her journey through her perspective, to see the world through her eyes. It’s rare for a film to show us a woman or girl’s perspective throughout. I was also impressed by her determination and resolve.


Megan: Laura wasn’t doing this for fame or notoriety or money, but that she had a dream as a child that she was determined to fulfill. That she wanted to go after something so passionately. I’ve always wanted to travel the world, but due to finances or school or work, I’ve never been able to travel as much I yearn to. So it was wonderful for her to seize the moment and just do it. I also loved that she didn’t like school because she didn’t like people telling her what to do!

Rachel: Yes, I was blown away by her maturity and how grounded she was, she’s obviously an incredibly mature and independent young woman

Megan: Yes! We need to see more independent young woman like Laura on-screen. It’s so fascinating how she was far more interested in exploring, meeting new people, trying new things, seeing new places.And how comfortable she was with herself and with being alone, yet when she met people, she had these deep connections.

Rachel:  That speaks a lot to her personality I think, to be so comfortable disembarking from her boat at the age of 14 and wandering around a country by herself.

Megan: She rejected the narrative of what she’s “supposed to do.” And I love that. It was intriguing to see her journey. It was a moving love letter to travel and to sailing.

Rachel:  I absolutely agree. In fact, I thought that the film did a beautiful job of showing the wonder and beauty of sailing, as well as the great community around sailing. The film also did a great job of showing how skilled Laura is as a sailor and her obvious love of sailing. I loved that Laura confesses that only Guppy, her boat, feels like home, but it could also be taken as a criticism of her home life and relationship with her parents

Megan: I also thought it was interesting when she says that true freedom is to not have attachments. It seems like Laura became increasingly comfortable on her own away from people. She seemed to crave solitude.

Rachel:  I was really struck by Laura’s development, as she came into herself and became a more private person–obviously not wanting to deal with other people, and loving the moments when she was just alone on her boat. That was one thing I loved about the film was that it was able to really show Laura’s changes; it’s fantastic to be able to see someone grow up in a two hour film.

Megan: Yes, me too! That typically only happens in the arc of a TV series. Not a two-hour movie. AND we typically only see coming-of-age stories with men/boys. Not women/girls.

Rachel:  Yes, I found it refreshing! I was really stunned that Schlesinger was able to show so much or Laura’s self-assurance and confidence as the trip progresses. I just felt that it painted a whole and complete picture of an individual really coming of age. And, maybe a weird side note, but I love that we see Laura physically change (her face, she grows up, and dyes her hair).

Megan: That’s a fantastic point! I couldn’t believe that so much was shown, revealed…yet it felt so expansive and not rushed at all. The film really breathed. Although sometimes, with my short attention span, I wanted things to hurry up. But I was so glad that they didn’t. The film really unfolded beautifully. I really felt that I want on this emotional and physical journey with Laura. It’s as if her journey at sea was a physical manifestation of her moving through the liminal stages of childhood/adolescence and into adulthood.

[caption id="attachment_7334" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Laura Dekker on the deck of 'Guppy' Laura Dekker on the deck of “Guppy”[/caption]

Rachel:  What did you feel that you gained the most from the film?

Megan: I’m glad you asked! I think I’d have to say the most I gained was to stop wasting time or making excuses and go after what you want. To pursue your dreams, whatever they may be. To not give a shit about people’s opinions. To chart your own course. Sometimes we as adults get bogged down in our day-to-day duties and responsibilities. We forget what matters most to us. We put our dreams on the back burner.

What did you gain most from the film?

Rachel:  Something similar to you I think; I gained a desire to travel/go abroad again. I guess that it reaffirmed my belief in the power of experiences to change us in really profound ways and the need to be proactive in our lives and really push and challenge ourselves. And challenging yourself can be so difficult, that it seems daunting and overwhelming sometimes. For instance, in the film, when speaking about a difficult time in her journey, her first few weeks alone on the first big ocean crossing, Laura said, “I just couldn’t get any food down, I just feel really strange.” I kept thinking about my own experiences living abroad, and how it can be so expanding, but also terrifying. But then, only a few minutes later, we see her crying as a group of dolphins play alongside her boat and she confesses to the camera how much they mean to her, as company, and as a reminder of the beauty of the world.

Rachel: Laura’s story is an intense one, and has garnered a lot of media attention. It’s great that they are recognizing the accomplishment of this incredible young woman. And in conjunction with that, it was interesting when Laura talked about the two other young woman who tried to do the “Not Stop Around The World” records: Jessica from Australia and Abby from America. Did you notice all three were women? I was curious, if there were also a lot of young men trying to do the same thing?

Megan: Yes, I DID notice that too!

Rachel: I think that it’s telling that there are brave young women so willing, and so focused on their goals, that they’re out there doing these kinds of things.

Megan: Perhaps there’s this notion of getting out there because society so often dictates to women what they can and can’t do. It’s a form of rebellion. A revolutionary act.  Maybe even on a subconscious level?

Rachel: Interesting idea. What did you think of the cinematography of the movie? Especially since half of the film was hand-held footage from Laura herself?

Megan: I thought it was stunning, breathtaking. I really felt the majesty and beauty of nature. And I liked that the majority of the footage was shot by Laura. Sure, some of it was choppy. But I thought that added to its charm. It’s a little rough around the edges. But then the camera pans on this exquisite sunset. Seeing the waves crash against the boat in the storm, the dolphins swimming beside the boat. It made me feel like I was right there alongside her. Also, I thought the score was haunting and beautiful, punctuating the story perfectly.

Rachel:  Yes, it made me feel more involved in the film, the traveling and the sailing with the camera rocking around; probably just one more reason that the movie was so powerful. I also thought it was a tribute to Jillian as a filmmaker that she was able to effectively use different elements of storytelling to accentuate Laura’s youth, and the fact that she is searching for herself, her place in the world, and her independence. Yet, all of this is couched within the framework of Laura’s love of sailing. I love how this film was able to speak to both of us on such a personal level, and really connected with us in our past experiences.

[caption id="attachment_7337" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]Laura Dekker and her home, 'Guppy' Laura Dekker and her home, “Guppy”[/caption]

Megan: But now you’ve got me thinking… Documentary films are so tricky. Because I’m thinking of the film, framing it as a story, despite it being a true one. Documentaries always have a bias, a perspective that the filmmaker wants you to see. They’re manipulative. Not necessarily in a bad way, but they’re trying to make you see/feel something specific.

Rachel:  I think that’s a great point. What perspective/bias do you think Jillian was trying to portray?

Megan: Hmmm…I think she was trying to convey a coming-of-age story. That here’s this incredibly brave, independent, mature, thoughtful young women. Setting out to achieve her dream but also discovering more about herself along the way. There’s this aura of anything is possible.

Rachel: I love that the film brought up Laura’s very conflicted relationship with the press, touching on the fact that the Dutch government tried to stop Laura’s journey, and even have her removed from her father’s custody, especially since Laura never wanted that kind of notoriety for her trip.

Megan: YES. But it’s so interesting that she has a film made about her, yet she values her privacy and doesn’t like journalists with their prying questions.

Rachel:  I would be very interested to know how Julian (the director) was able to convince Laura and her father to participate in the project. As a little aside though…I did some research yesterday and found a few articles stating that  Laura Dekker is not happy with the film and isn’t supporting it anymore. Which is a very interesting continuation of Laura’s distrust of the media.

Megan: Oh wow.

Rachel: But apparently Schlesinger (the director) has been fantastic about Laura’s refusal to support the film

“Jillian Schlesinger, to her credit, doesn’t seem to be taking Laura’s disapproval too personally. ‘We prefer to respect Laura’s privacy and to let her speak for herself on the matter as much or as little as she’d like to at this time.'”

Rachel: I suppose it would be hard for me to watch a story of my own life journey from kid into adult….To see my mistakes, even if it did end up in a positive place?

Megan: While of course Jillian edited the film and scored it, it’s still a majority of Laura’s footage which I think makes it different than most other documentaries. Perhaps this is naive, but I feel like it makes it a “purer” story. Truer to the source.

Rachel: Especially since it’s all Laura, there are no outside influences going on there.

Megan: You raise a great point about how hard it must be for Laura to watch this, to see her triumphs but also her mistakes, her pain and her growth. What do you think about the film’s commentary on the passage of time?

Rachel: Oh, great question! Because it does cover a full two years in only two hours, I think that it can sometimes be easy to forget just how long two years is, and they end up shortening six weeks at sea into five minutes of footage. Perhaps, whether intentional or not, the film really underscores memory of time, only choosing the parts we consider the most important or significant to remember, when in reality, there might be more to the story. Things that could have been important to someone else, but that we don’t always remember or see or hear about. What do you think that the film is saying about time?

Megan: I agree with you. Also, I thought it was interesting that Laura says, “After 30 days [at sea], time doesn’t exist any more. It was the best feeling…I made peace with it. I was just there, with nature.” That was really powerful. To slow down. To not obsess over the past or worry about the future, but to really live in the moment.

Megan: I know we already talked about the media. But I thought it was interesting and awful to see all the headlines and descriptions of Laura in the media before her voyage. That she was “crazy” and “unstable.” I wonder, would they have said the same thing about a boy her age?

Rachel:  The horrific things people were saying about her! Do you remember that one person said, “I hope she sinks” And I just thought, “Really? I mean, really? You thought that was OK to say? Wishing for someone else’s death?!” I was shocked. Hmmm, I’m not sure that they would have, I think they would have been more willing to let him go ahead with the trip.

Megan: Yes, I remember her saying that! That’s disgusting. Why would you wish for someone’s death?! And the media would never say that about a boy. They might say reckless or impetuous or something like that. But not “crazy” or “unstable.”

Rachel: That is one thing I’ve noticed, as a traveler and a woman, People are ALWAYS telling me, “But do you feel safe?” “Don’t you think it would be better to travel with a group?” I think people definitely have this perception that women maybe shouldn’t be traveling alone, because it’s too dangerous, and because of this, many women stop themselves. And while yes, we can’t ignore that it can be more dangerous as a woman, I think it’s unfortunate that so many women stop themselves from opportunities, or are stopped by others, because of fear.

I  love that Maidentrip is about a girl taking control of her life and doing what she needs to do.


Rachel:  But all that said, would I allow my 14-year-daughter do what Laura did? Probably not. And I think it is a valid point, and one that is underscored by Laura’s own admissions, she didn’t have the best relationship with her parents, making her an incredibly self-assured and independent young woman

Though, I wonder, while I don’t think many 14-year-olds would be ready to leave their parents and go off into the world, history is full of people stepping up at that age and doing incredible things.

Megan: You raise a fantastic point. I wouldn’t let my daughter (if I had one) go on a trip alone at that age. Especially sailing, when there’s so much that can go wrong. But then I think, you can’t live your life in fear. I’m torn. But yes, her loving yet strained relationship with her parents had to have played a role.

Rachel: I think people are far more capable than we give them credit for and Maidentrip is definitely a testament to the human ability to adjust itself to its environment.

One thing, the sea is always thought of as a woman (as is mother nature), perhaps it’s significant that a girl who had a very sad relationship with her mother, would have this typically female symbol (the ocean) guiding her into womanhood.

Megan: YES! And boats are named after women. That definitely makes the film even more powerful on a symbolic gender level.

Rachel: Yes! It becomes an incredibly female film, centered in the female experience.

Megan: Yes, it illustrates Laura’s perseverance, determination and resolve. What a survivor. I also love when Laura says, “There were all these people who looked at me like it was impossible that I had come in with this weather. And then as I finally started to warm up again and to think straight, I realized that wow, that’s actually pretty badass.” Such a powerful declaration — her realization of her own power and agency. She’s not shy or humble or timid about it. She embraces it.

Rachel:  It was definitely a moment of self-realization, for her to be able to see that in herself. How powerful for us, and the audience, especially when you think that “sailor” stories always seem to be male ones, (pirates, etc…).

Megan: You’re SO right! Almost all sailor stories — and survival stories in general — are told from a male perspective. Like All is Lost, Castaway, and Captain Phillips.

Rachel:  Or Life of Pi and Liam Neesen’s The Grey.

Megan: That’s one of the reasons why I love Gravity. It’s important to see women survivors and explorers too.

Rachel:  Yes! And I just thought, “I want more women to have that kind of experience!!!”

Megan: YES! Exactly!! I felt that too.

Rachel:  Maybe that’s the true power/message of the film? Hopefully that it could make women (and men) realize that inner ability.

Megan: Laura will never stop searching, never stop being herself. I want every woman to recognize and embrace her inner strength and power.


Rachel Redfern is a Staff Writer at Bitch Flicks. She is a traveler and teacher who spent the last few years living in Asia. Now back in her native California, she focuses on writing about media, culture, and feminism. She writes for Policy Mic and tweets at @RachelRedfern2.

Megan Kearns is Bitch Flicks‘ Social Media Director and a feminist vegan blogger. She blogs at The Opinioness of the World and Fem2pt0 and she’s a member of the Boston Online Film Critics Association (BOFCA). She tweets at @OpinionessWorld.

3 Trackbacks

  • […] across the festival is we have everything from a teenager sailing across the ocean alone [Maidentrip] to an animated film [Frozen], to women from all different countries around the world do many […]

  • […] across the festival is we have everything from a teenager sailing across the ocean alone [Maidentrip] to an animated film [Frozen], to women from all different countries around the world do many […]

  • By Max Goes to the Athena Film Festival | Bitch Flicks on February 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    […] Laura Dekker is, as you might expect from someone who sails solo around the world at an age when most of us are primarily concerned with acne and algebra, a fascinating figure. According to Schlesinger, in the course of her two years at sea, Dekker only shot ten hours’ worth of video diary footage, and so much of the film is reconstructed around ex post facto interviews. Dekker is an extraordinarily self-possessed and contemplative young woman. If she were twenty years older and male, somebody would write a film based on her life and it would be hailed as a remarkable character study of an enigmatic figure and win all the Academy Awards. We so rarely see people like Laura Dekker in our popular culture, where teenage girls are portrayed as insecure, frivolous, or catty, that this film is a much-needed counterweight to the bulk of film and TV. Rachel and Megan wrote a detailed review recently, which you should read if you haven’t alread… […]