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Henk Sol: ‘Surprising emotions surrounding teenager’s solo sail’

25 August 2009

Laura Dekker’s plan to sail solo around the world brought down a hail of criticism on the thirteen-year-old from Wijk bij Duurstede. Many think the solo trip is irresponsible. The Dutch Council for Child Protection announced an investigation and the Minister of Education ordered the municipality to enforce her compulsory school attendance. Henk Sol, a keen yachtsman and professor of Business and ICT, as well as former Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business, is particularly surprised by the degree of emotion involved.

‘The hype about the girl is tremendous’, Sol says. ‘Her name will give you 25,000 Google hits. Everyone has an opinion about Laura’s plan, right down to women’s magazines like Viva and Margriet. ’ That the young yachtswoman’s courageous plan has drawn attention doesn’t surprise Sol. ‘But I find the extremely emotional reactions very remarkable.’

Fighting against the stream, Laura Dekker has demonstrated tenacity, with no-one seemingly able to stop her. Laura’s parents in any case are all for her plan. As a yachtsman, Sol can understand what drives the teenager. ‘The sea offers you a feeling that you won’t find on land’, he says. ‘The grandeur, nature, the calm. It’s hard to put into words, but the feeling runs deep.’

Mentality

Sol also feels that Laura’s plan reflects the mentality of many of the youth of today. ‘They choose their own direction, they decide on their position, even if it’s against the stream. To me it resembles the attitude of young people in the 1960s.’

Sol lays emphasis on his admiration for Laura’s courage and stands in awe of her choice. ‘She can do something amazing’, according to Sol. ‘She will leave as a girl, and return a woman.’

Perhaps the success and attention that lie in the offing explain the strong reactions, Sol surmises. The professor feels that jealousy is also playing a role. Sol: ‘Many people don’t have the nerve or the will to embark on a sail around the world. Laura will escape the treadmill and do something that others only dream of. That does create envy.’

Exhausting

Although the professor deeply respects her drive and character, he also wonders whether Laura isn’t overestimating her capabilities and not properly realizing her limitations. Sol: ‘I don’t doubt her sailing and navigation skills as she was born on board a boat and has years of sailing experience. No doubt her boat is in good technical shape as well. The question is whether she’ll be able to handle it physically.’

All the work involved on board will force Laura into an exhausting two hours on, two hours off routine. The young sailor will have to endure difficult moments, according to Sol. ‘And if she’s really unlucky, she could have to deal with week after week of misery and misfortune. Storms can get up, you can bump into a drifting freight container or a whale, the mast or other equipment on board can break and all sorts of things could happen to her physically. Being alone at sea for great lengths of time, on a small vessel, takes a lot out of you. I’m not saying it’s irresponsible, but I wouldn’t allow my own children to do it. ’ Sol refers to the experiences of Henk de Velde, the most famous long-distance yachtsman in the Netherlands. Tough as the adventurer is, even he had to break off some of his trips due to physical hardship.

Compulsory school attendance

And then there’s the law – Laura must attend school according to it. But doesn’t a year at sea teach you much more and give you much more life experience than a year at school? That she has to go to school by law is much less important to Sol than whether or not she will be able to deal with matters physically and mentally. But Sol does have his doubts in this regard as well. ‘Although she will have a real life experience, it’s too easy to say that she will learn more than her classmates, just because she’s sailing around the world on her own. You can’t actually compare the two. ’ Sol also doesn’t quite believe Laura will have time to delve into her schoolbooks. The on-off rhythm on board will leave her no time to do homework, especially since she’ll have to do so without supervision and help, Sol says.

Curriculum vitae

Prof. Henk Sol (1951) gained his degree in econometrics with honours at the University of Groningen in 1974. His 1982 PhD ‘Simulation in Information Systems Development’ (Groningen) was also with honours. Sol went on to become Professor of Information Systems Design of the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics at Delft University of Technology from 1984 to 1998, and then became Dean of the Technology, Policy and Management faculty, up until 2003.

From 2005 until 2007 Sol was Dean of the of the Faculty of Management and Organization at the University of Groningen. He was also Professor of Business Engineering and ICT in Delft and Groningen. In 2007 Sol was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Management and Organization at the University of Groningen. Since 2008 he has been Professor of Business and ICT at the same university.

Henk Sol enjoys sailing, sometimes at sea, when he has the time. He acts as competition leader at national sailing races and is chairman of the Noordzeeclub, an association for sporting yachtsmen.

Sol is a member of the Supervisory Board of Nicolaas Mulerius, the student sailing association Mayday’s clipper and flagship of the University of Groningen.

Last modified:04 January 2018 3.26 p.m.

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