‘Maidentrip’: The journey, not the destination

January 14, 2014


There is a lovely simplicity to Jillian Schlesinger’s film “Maidentrip,” which includes the credit “made with Laura Dekker.”

Dekker was the Dutch girl who, in 2010, at the age of 14, set sail from Gibraltar in a quest to be the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe alone in a sailboat. Schlesinger’s film assembles footage Dekker shot herself, with cameras mounted on her boat, and puts it together with scenes Schlesinger captured at stops during the journey.

Schlesinger frames the film as she thumbnails Dekker’s youth: spent her first three years living at sea before settling down on land, child of divorce, father an avid sailor who taught and encouraged her, mother mostly absent. She then synopsizes the court battle by the government to stop Laura, out of a fear for her safety.

Dekker prevailed in court, then set off – and that is mostly the movie. But what a subject: At 14, Laura Dekker has the poise, confidence, fearlessness and skill of someone two or three times her age. She talks to the camera and, at times, she’s just a teenager, sometimes bored by the long days alone on the ocean.

But she also has the presence to revel in the thing that made her do this in the first place: the freedom that comes with being thousands of miles from another human being, the thrill of the wind in her hair as she skims across the water on a good day.

She planned her trip to last about two years. Dekker had no interest in racing; she wanted to go around the globe – but she also wanted to see the world. So she plots her trip in legs: Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, the Canaries to the West Indies, to the Panama Canal – stopping at each port to tie up and explore. One of those stops includes a visit from her mother and younger sister; in Australia (the halfway point), she is joined by her father.

You watch her sailing and you get caught up in the relaxing, infinite quality of the pursuit. The sounds, the colors, the feeling – you are and must be totally in the moment. Which is something the bright young sailor articulates: that the trip has taught her just how much she loves doing this, how much it fills her soul, how impossible a life back in Holland suddenly seems.

There are harrowing moments, to be sure – high waves, a couple of squalls and a stormy night crossing through dangerous straits. But while this film might initially call to mind “All Is Lost,” the story here is about one girl’s daunting quest and the sheer joy she gets from fulfilling it.

If you’re old enough to have kids, “Maidentrip” obviously will raise other questions as well: not just about whether you would have the wherewithal to attempt a journey like this – but whether you had the optimism and confidence required to let your child do it.

Laura Dekker is a remarkable enough young woman that I somehow think I might have.

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