Week 363: “Growing Up” by Ben Sollee

What did you do between the ages of 14 and 16?

Start a band? Forge your identity? Rage against the government? Go through a tough relationship? Assert your independence? Change your circle of friends?

While you’re struggling to remember some of your more awkward years, here’s what Laura Dekker did between the ages of 14 and 16: she circumnavigated the globe. In a 38-foot sailboat. By herself.

She left Gibraltar in August 2010, and made her way across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, eventually landing at the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten 518 days later. She was the youngest person ever to do so.

But it wasn’t circumnavigation for the sake of circumnavigation. She did it primarily because she loved to sail.

Her parents were in the middle of a 7-year sailing trip of their own when Laura was born, and her earliest years were spent at sea. She had longed to return, but as she prepared to make her round-the-world journey, the Dutch government intervened. Citing the irresponsibility of allowing someone so young to undertake something so insane, they threatened to take her from her father’s custody.

After a lengthy legal battle, the courts ruled in Laura’s favour, and her trip began.

The whole thing is documented in the film “Maidentrip,” and Dekker herself shot much of the footage. Despite the epic nature of the trip, she comes off as pretty normal. In fact, she comes off as doing all the aforementioned teenage things…forging her identity, raging against the government, asserting her independence.

Okay, she didn’t start a band. But other than that, the film is an extraordinarily ordinary tale of growing up. Only the sprawling ocean differentiates her journey from our own.

The soundtrack, by cellist Ben Sollee, is perfect.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The cello is the ideal instrument to represent Laura Dekker. Cellos are fine as part of an orchestra, but they really do their best work on their own.

2. The cello is the ideal instrument to represent the ocean. No stringed instrument has as comparable depth or breadth of sound.

3. The cello is the ideal instrument to represent a coming of age. In this particular track, the mood is pulled between the plucking and bowing that showcase the cello’s curious energy and smooth maturity.

Recommended listening activity:

Checking your calendar to see what you were doing 518 days ago.

Buy it here.


Side note that I wanted to include but couldn’t figure out how: Dekker has said that she doesn’t officially endorse the documentary, but hasn’t specified exactly why. My theory: she wanted the film to be about the journey, but the director wanted it to be about the young woman taking the journey. I wouldn’t blame either party for feeling that way. Laura Dekker wanted the audience to appreciate the beauty of the experience that had defined her life; the director understood that Laura Dekker was the story, not her trip.