LAURA DEKKER AT BÜRGERKULTURZENTRUM WINDECK
By Thomas Weber
„Why is Laura Dekker giving her only public presentation in Europe in Windeck?“ – With that question to Laura Dekker host Jürgen Orthaus opened the event in the “Kabelmetal” hall of Bürgerkulturzentrum (Civic Culture Center) Windeck in Windeck-Schladern on October 6, 2013 shortly after 6 pm. The story of a journey was to be the program for that night, actually an account of an unusual journey - the world circumnavigation of Laura Dekker. Beg your pardon? Laura Dekker? The world famous youngest ever solo circumnavigator makes a presentation in Windeck? Indeed you got that right! Laura Dekker herself is honoring us with her presence.
Let’s recapitulate. In late summer 2009 New Zealand born and Dutch citizen Laura Dekker but also holds German nationality, announced her plans to sail around the world. What’s so special about that one might ask … Well, back then Laura was just shy of her 14th birthday. “No way!” the authorities said, „She can’t do that“ was the public opinion not only in the Netherlands but also in the rest of the world. Finally, after eleven exhausting months of hearings in court, psychological investigations, investigations by experts, first-aid classes, security trainings and a solo sailing tour to Britain, Laura was allowed to put her plans into action.
In early August Laura set off from Den Osse in the province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, and sailed to Portugal with her father [the author of this account was present when Laura threw loose the mooring lines]. By mid- August, a month before her 15th birthday, Laura set off from Gibraltar aboard her 12-meters sailing boat “Guppy” and started on her solo-circumnavigation - 518 days later after completing her trip around the globe Laura reached the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten and as a 16 years and 123 days teen she became the youngest solo-circumnavigator. Since then Laura has settled in New Zealand, her country of birth.
But why is Laura giving a presentation here in this region that can’t seriously be labeled a sailor’s paradise? Laura’s answer is: “Well, Thomas Weber lives here and he followed me during my trip, and he came up with the idea to hold another presentation here, too. That’s how it happened
Yes, that’s how it came to be, approximately.
During Laura’s circumnavigation I, with another fan in Canada, were doing the English translations of Laura’s blog on her personal website, www.lauradekker.nl. We also started a fanpage on Facebook “Zeilmeisje [Sailor girl] Laura Dekker” that is still very well liked by Laura’s fans. We also took care of a few other things during Laura’s trip. After Laura’scircumnavigation was completed we kept in touch with Laura and her family.
For late summer 2013 the German Delius Klasing publishing house had planned to bring Laura to Germany for the promotion of the German version of her book. This included appearances in various media, newspapers as well as television. In September I contacted the publishing house and asked about Laura’s appearances in the media so that we could keep the fans updated. By chance I had written to the spokesman who would join Laura during her time in Germany. My proposal was received favorably and we were able to keep Laura’s fans updated with the latest news via Zeilmeisje on Facebook. Besides official appearances like on the ‘3nach9’ talk show of NDR (North German Broadcasting) or interviews with important daily newspapers Laura, her father told me, intended to give several presentations about her trip in German.
Mid-September – an email from Holland
On September 12, I received an email from Laura’s father Dick Dekker who told me that Laura would like to give one or more presentations in Germany preferably in the region of Cologne and Bonn. Those presentations however, would have to take place before October 10 since Laura would be leaving Europe to go back to New Zealand. Dick asked me whether I knew an association or a conference hall in the region for a presentation. Honestly, I was very much surprised by that request! Such an event would normally require planning for months and it would have to be done within weeks. And there was one more small thing : I did not know any club or association or conference hall that would host an event like that.
Very much clueless I called an acquaintance of mine, a sailor who also has contacts with local sailing clubs. He promised to ask around in the region of Siegen. On the next day we had to face the truth: Even though there was interest in Laura’s presentation, there was no one who wanted to take on the risk of a flop. But then I had an idea, the right one as it turned out later.
In the past weeks our local press had announced that the opening of an conference hall in our village was imminent. Over time the hall, a former factory building built at the turn of the century, was modified into “Bürgerkulturzentrum Windeck (Kabelmetal hall)”. A non-profit organization owns the hall in which the Windeck municipality has a participation.
The calendar of events showed empty dates for September and October, so an event involving Laura could be a possibility. To the mail I sent in which I proposed Laura’s presentation I sadly did not receive an answer. A phone call wasn’t possible since they had no phone line yet. No luck either with Windeck’s municipality where I was told that, of course, the person in charge was out of the office that day.
Finally, I wrote to Mr. Orthaus, the spokesman of BürgerkulturzentrumWindeck. My mail was answered in just a few minutes and it was obvious that there was a strong interest on their part to my offer. In follow-up mails Mr. Orthaus asked about the details for the event such as honorarium for Laura, some costs to be paid by the owner of the hall, advertising. Eventually he promised to take care of it.
The days went by and on September 18 I was told by the Windeck municipality to contact Mr Schadel who is the event manager of the hall about this matter. Pretty much excited I called him and briefly shared my concerns. Yes, Mr. Orthaus had already had discussions about the event. No, there was to be no objections to this event because the financial risk and the effort (I: “A microphone and a projector is all Laura needs”) were minimal. However at this moment Mr. Schadel said that he was very busy with the opening of the hall planning and that yes, I could already forward to the Dekkers that the event was going to happen. I could barely trust my ears and I needed approximately half an hour to get used to the idea : Laura would be on stage of the Bürgerkulturzentrum Windeck in about two weeks.
On the opening day which coincidenttly was also Laura’s 18th birthday, I visited the new Bürgerkulturzentrum. I immediately knew for sure that this hall that had been renovated at great effort, was the perfect local for Laura’s presentation. Maybe I should mention that up to the late 1980s my father worked as a mechanical engineer for the very same company that had owned this hall originally.
Shortly before the official opening ceremony I ran into Mr. Orthaus, who told me he was looking forward to the event with Laura. As it turns out I learned that Mr Orthaus is a sailor, too! Could anyone be that incredibly lucky – I had found a brand new hall equipped with the latest state of the art technology and with a sailor for a spokesman? Obviously I had! Now all I could to do was to wait for Monday.
Early – too early – on Monday September 2,3 I called Mr Schadel the event manager . We made an appointment for half past 11 for coffee/tea at his flat. With the BILD am Sonntag newspaper interview with Laura in my pocket I walked over to Mr Schadel’s flat. At first I had to tell about my relation to Laura. We talked about possible dates, the entrance fee, Laura’s honorarium and advertising the conference. We finally agreed on October 6 at 18.00 (Mr Schadel: “Not later than that. There’s ‘Tatort’ on TV at a quarter to eight and many want to watch it”) and 14 Euro entrance fee. For advertising because time was very short I promised to strongly engage myself on the internet and in the production and distribution of the event bill. But first Mr Schadel had to ask the owners of the hall for permission which was but a mere formality. On September 24 the owners granted permission and we finally had the green light for the event.
First there had to be a bill created for the event. Happily, the Delius Klasing publishing house agreed on the use of one of the photos from Laura’s book. I quickly created a simple and nice bill. Because of our small budget and lack of time big prints of the bills was out and so they were to be done in A4 size and printed on Mr Schadel’s home laser printer.
On the morning of Sepember 26, I picked up the first prints that I immediately sent to my acquaintance in Siegen so he could distribute them. Also spokesman Mr Orthaus asked me to deliver a press release as soon as possible. So I quickly wrote a text about Laura and her presentation and created a PDF file that contained the bill, the press release, a journey description and a few links as well. I also sent that file to Laura’s father and asked him to make it available for downloading on Laura’s website.
As if that wasn't enough I had to travel to Hamburg to attend the official presentation of Laura’s book that same evening, which I really had not enough time for because of the preparation of our event.
Another problem was the sale of Laura’s book after her presentation at Bürgerkulturzentrum. Sadly, the publishing house could not provide books for sale on commission and I was snobbed when I asked at a bookstore in the neighboring village if they could organize the book sale. Eventually, I was lucky when I received a call from a small book store in the nearby district town of Waldbröl, whose owner spontaneously agreed to provide 25 books for our event. Her phone call came in only minutes before I went rushing to Hamburg for the book presentation at the Hamburger Segelclub.
In a nutshell: I was already late going and got stuck in a traffic jam not far from Hamburg and was an hour late for the book presentation. Luckily I had enough time for a chat with Laura’s boyfriend Daniel (he was born in the city of Bonn, about 40 kilometers from where I grew up) and with Laura who I had not met since March 2012 in Amsterdam. She was very happy with the preparations for our event the next week, and she also liked our bill. The Delius Klasing publishing house gave me a big box with several hundreds postcards promoting Laura’s book and a poster of “Ein Mädchen, ein Traum”. I still had to drive back home that very same night and at about 4 o’clock in the morning I was back in Windeck.
In the morning of September 27, I picked up the second edition of bills for Laura’s event from Mr Schadel. Then it was all about “being on the knocker” (going door-to-door) to post the bills in as many stores and strategically favorable places in my village and the neighboring villages. Of course, many people had heard of Laura and probably had seen her on TV in the past weeks or had read the interview on BILD am Sonntag newspaper, so mostly I had positive reactions like “What?! SHE is coming here?!?! That‘s a doozie!!!“ as happened at local hardware store. All in all I was sent away only two times.
And I wrote plenty of mails to yacht clubs in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Hessen and Rheinland Pfalz, and to other places not too far from the venue. Of course, ‘Zeilmeisje’ on Facebook was also involved in the advertising.
That is how I filled my days until the event. I must say honestly, I was pretty upset with Laura’s father stubborn refusal to post the event’s bill and the PDF file on the homepage of Laura’s website. Instead just a rather small and easy to overlook link was placed there and it lead to Laura’s blog pages where the text rewritten by Laura’s father used extracts of my text and changed them without having consulted me. To my many remarks indicating that my text couldn’t be posted like that with so many mistakes Laura’s father replied in a stroppy (curtly) way. For an unknown reason he seemed unable to understand the relation between advertising for the event with attendance at the event and income for Laura - well, I confess that I am powerless with people who are closed to all suggestions.
On October 1st I picked up the ordered books from the book store in Waldbröl. A few days prior to the event I saw that my press release had been printed in the Windeck municipality bulletin.
October 6, 2013
On Sunday morning October 6, everything was set. I had spent all saturday in my kitchen preparing a meal for this day. My visitors arrived at half past 11 and we spent time chatting while waiting for Laura and Daniel to join us. Around noon the phone rang. The small screen on the phone displayed a number from Bonn - I knew Laura and Daniel had stayed there before during Laura’s stay in Germany - I had a bad feeling.
I remembered that later in the afternoon at around 16.30 we had planned to meet with spokesman Jürgen Orthaus, who would also act as the moderator for the event at Kabelmetal hall of Bürgerkulturzentrum Windeck. I picked up the phone:
_This is Daniel, Laura’s boyfriend. How are you?
_ I’m fine (No, please do NOT tell me that something went wrong and the event is not going to happen! I thought).
_I wanted to tell you that we’ll be about one hour late and won’t have lunch, Laura is not feeling well, probably she has an upset stomach.
_OK, but you’ll come anyway, won’t you?
_Yes. See you later!
Well then OK, no venison and Crème brûlée for Laura and Daniel. Pity. So the remaining three of us had dinner without them. We three, that included Christoph, the sailor from Siegen who I had met for the first time at HISWA in Amsterdam in March 2012 after which we had stayed in touch for a year or so via mail, and his girlfriend Silke, and I of course.
14h00, 14h15, 14h30… I looked out the window in the street. At the very same moment an old white van with a Dutch (yellow) number plate and a well-known drawn fish on each side stopped in front of my house, the Guppy-mobile! A minute later I was greeting Laura and Daniel, Laura with a slightly pale face but definitely Laura nonetheless.
_I was asking myself if we were at the right place, but pointing at Christoph’s car decorated with bills for the event and parked in front of my house, I was sure we were! Laura said.
After short greetings in the hallway we moved over to the living room where a big, flat and gift-wrapped box that Silke and Christoph had brought was opened to reveal its secret : a pirateship Guppy cake from their local bakery with Guppy written in sugar icing. Laura was very happy about it. Christoph also gave Laura a book. Sadly, we can’t remember the title but it was something about sailing.
_ Maybe we’d like to try the cake, Laura suggested.
_ We’d love to!
The table was soon set and a few minutes later the five of us were sitting gemuetlich (cozily) in my dining room. If someone had said to me in late August 2009, when I read about Laura’s story in the Rhein-Sieg-Anzeiger newspaper that she would be sitting at my table four years later, I’d have called him a weirdo. But that’s exactly what happened on this October 6.
We did not cut into pirateship-Guppy-cake but choose to go for Silke’s tasty apple cake. Laura preferred hot chocolate over black tea; I did not have any peppermint tea that Daniel had asked me to brew for Laura. However, she obviously enjoyed Silke’s apple cake. We talked about this and that, about sailing and about how many meters of anchor chain one has to let out when dropping anchor, about the translations that West North and I did for Laura (Daniel had no clue about that and I noticed that Laura didn’t appreciate when I told) and about some other things.
Daniel had never tried a Crème brûlée, even though they had celebrated Laura’s 18th birthday in France.
_ Reminds me of Christmas, Daniel said as I caramelized the sugar with a gas torch. Laura tried a few spoons. Obviously she liked it.
_ Did you cook it?” she asked
_ Sure did!
We would have liked to spend more time with Laura and Daniel and entertain more important subjects, but Laura and Daniel had to go for a brief visit with relatives. And the long case clock (Daniel: “That clock reminds me of Big Ben”) in my dining room indicated that it was less than an hour until our scheduled meeting with the moderator at the hall.
Sounds incredible, but it’s true: Daniel, whom Laura met on a bus on the other side of the world in New Zealand, has some relatives living in my neighboring village.
_ How long have you lived here? Laura asked me getting inside the GUPPY-mobile.
_ My whole life, my family has lived here for more than one hundred years. I said. Laura looked at me in disbelief.
_ See you later! she said and off they went.
One hour later, at about 16.45 Silke, Christoph and I arrived at the Kabelmetal hall. On the left side of the stage the speaker’s desk was set up. A large screen stood at the center rear of the stage. On a lower podium in front of the stage a leather sofa was in place for the interview.
Mr Orthaus and Laura had already discussed the course of the event. “She’s really an easy going person”, he had said to me. Indeed, she is.
Except for us there were only a few people in the auditorium and two little girls that kept asking Laura for autographs. Could this be the kids of my Facebook friend Sascha? Indeed. They had done the three hours long journey by car just to see Laura. An other fan had travelled by train from Holland to Windeck-Schladern.
On each chair in the auditory we placed one copy of the postcards that I had brought back from Hamburg the week before. Next we had to organize the sale of the book. We quickly set up a table to the lower right side of the stage and decorated it with a few books and the poster that was given to me in Hamburg. While I was still busy with fixing the poster to the table, I noticed from the corner of my eye a dog entering the hall – it was Spot, Laura’s dog, and the man in tow behind him was Laura’s father, Dick Dekker. He was followed by Riek and Dick Dekker senior, Laura’s grandparents from Holland. They had come all the way from Woerden near Utrecht to attend Laura’s presentation. I don’t know if Laura was really surprised by their visit. I had knowned of their presence a few days earlier, but Dick Dekker had asked me not to disclose anything to Laura. At least Spot was happy to be with Laura again and expressed his joy
uproariously. Sadly, Laura’s sister Kim couldn’t be with us because she had to attend school early the next morning – and as we know the Dutch officials have no mercy when it’s about attending school. While I was still busy with preparing the table for the book sale, Laura’s grandmother stepped close to me and told me in German that she’s Laura’s grandmother - “I know” was all I replied and that was obviously confusing to her, but she added that she had not seen the German version of Laura’s book before.
A few minutes later I saw Laura in a conversation with her grandmother who obviously was asking Laura about me as she pointed in my direction, and uttered an “Oh!”. I can’t tell if this “Oh!” was meant as a positive or a negative. While Laura was sipping her peppermint tea, Dick Dekker asked me in German whether I did advertising for the event. A weird question, really since…I have to say that I answered him coolly as we haven’t had only friendly correspondence in the past.
When trying to connect Laura’s computer with the video projector it turned out that despite the five millions of Euros that were invested in rebuilding the hall, that money hadn’t been enough to buy an adaptor to plug-in an Apple laptop. Happily, Daniel’s relatives in the neighboring village had an adaptor that fitted. Just before the start of the event the question arose if there should be a break after the first half of Laura’s presentation.That eventually was found to be unnecessary.
Laura handed a poster to me that I fixed to the entrance door to the hall. I later learned that it was the very same poster that Laura had photographed for her September 22 weblog. Daniel and I agreed that I would sell the books I had from the book store in Waldbröl and that he would sell the books Laura had purchased from the Delius Klasing publishing house. To be done after Laura’s presentation.
The clock showed a few minutes past 18.00 and to my surprise and to my pleasure almost all of the 90 seats in the auditorium were taken. Laura’s family were seated on the left side in front of the stage and Laura was waiting to be called as she sat on her father’s lap. Then the show was on!
Moderator Jürgen Orthaus began with a brief introduction about his work at Bürgerkulturzentrum Windeck. Then he introduced Laura and they both took their seats on the sofa. When the applause from the audience faded, he asked Laura the first question : „Why is Laura Dekker giving her only public presentation in Europe in Windeck?“-You will remember that question from the beginning of this account. I have to admit that I felt pretty touched by Laura’s answer, however I was brought back to reality when Mr Orthaus suddenly held the microphone in front of my nose asking me how the connection to Laura had come to be. Well, summing up four years in one or two sentences is rather difficult if not impossible so I kept to some platitudes and simply asserted that Laura is worth being supported.
_ Some time ago it was said that a circumnavigation is not that difficult: Sail southbound until the butter starts melting and then simply turn left. But that’s not how it is, is it?” said Mr Orthaus to lead back into Laura’s circumnavigation.
_ You can try doing it like that too, however that’s not how I did it.
_Then please tell us how you did. And then it was Laura’s turn to tell us.
What can I say now but that of course I know Laura’s story but listening to her live and first-hand was something really, really special. A nice moment happened when Laura called Spot on stage to show that she wasn’t completely alone when on her sailing trips at ten years old and without a grown-up for company.
The whole time of Laura’s presence the auditorium hung on to her lips, spellbound following her account as she showed many pictures, most of which are not published on the internet or elsewhere.
Another show-stopper was the inflatable globe, on which Laura’s route was displayed. That globe hung down over the speaker’s desk attached by a string. Laura only had to loosen the string to lower the globe by two meters, and show her entire route to the audience. The week before in Hamburg her boyfriend Daniel hat to temporarily make-do as somekind of globe-mount.
Maybe the Bürgerkulturzentrum’s team manages to install a little motor to hoist and to lower the globe at the push of a button before Laura’s next presentation in Windeck.
Laura’s presentation was over much too soon and under loud applause from the audience she again took her seat next to moderator Jürgen Orthaus on the sofa. After a little chat during which Mr Orthaus asked some interesting questions to Laura, the Q & A period for the audience was on. You could tell from some of the questions that many of the people in the public must have been sailors because they asked for technical details like the safety line and so on.
At the very end Mr Orthaus again thanked Laura and me and closed the event with a nice quote by Johnny Depp: “You can’t buy happiness with money, but you can buy a yacht with which to sail into happiness.”
That was it! It all went perfecty well, there were no incidents technical or of another kind. Now it was all about Laura signing books, giving autographs and chatting with her fans. Even I was engaged by attending journalists and interested bystanders hearing praising words from all sides.
Christoph and I also had a chat with Laura’s father. Later Christoph told me that he had later asked Dick Dekker whether West North’s and my work for Laura would be acknowledged and thanked for publicly to which Dick answered that it would be unusual (!) and that no one would do that. Maybe Mr Dekker should occasionally take in hand and reread the books by other circumnavigators who have thanked their benefactors and sponsors in speeches and print.
And then it was time to wrap-up. According to event manager Peter Schadel the event turned out to be a “black zero” for Kabelmetal – no win but no loss either. All in all there were 62 paying guests attending plus the Dekker family and several journalists. The result from the book sale was also good. Laura seemed to be satisfied. At least that is what she said each time we asked.
Slowly the hall emptied and we packed our things up. Then we had to bid farewell. In the parking in front of the hall we talked for a few minutes before we said good bye to each other. Daniel told me that Laura had another appointment in Salzburg,Austria, the next day, but did not know what it was about. While Silke, Christoph and I drove back to my house and Dick Dekker drove back to Holland with the grandparents, Laura and Daniel went over to Daniel’s relatives who invited them for supper. We would have loved to have them back at my home to end the day. Maybe next time, but honestly I don’t believe that but well, you never know, after all I was also completely wrong in my appreciations after HISWA 2012.
I’d like to thank everyone who contributed and made Laura’s appearance at “Kabelmetal” a reality!
I especially would like to thank Mr Peter Schadel for the organization and the spontaneous acceptance to host the event,
To Mr Jürgen Orthaus, who I want to thank for his great moderator skills during the event and his advocacy in preparation of the event,
To Miss Tamoschus of the book store ‘der buchladen’ in Waldbröl, who without hesitation agreed to provide Laura’s books for selling at the event,
To Mr Andreas John of segelreporter.com who posted the announcement for the event on the Segelreporter page.
Furthermore, I would like to thank Miss Friederike Krempin from the Delius Klasing publishing house, who kept informing me and Laura’s fans with the latest news during Laura’s stay in Germany.
And finally, I’d like to thank Laura very, very much, who, despite she wasn’t feeling her best, made that day a very special one for all us. We won’t ever forget!
Epilogue – a bitter aftertaste
Several days have passed since the event with Laura and things have now come back to normal. On Friday morning, October 11, I received a mail from Dick Dekker. He wrote that there would be an interview with Laura on the radio that very same evening on NDR, that “had been recorded a long time ago.” Then shortly before noon, when I had just came back home, the unbelievable happened! Without a clue to its content I opened another mail by Dick Dekker, that had the inoffensive subject ‘Windeck presentatie’ (Presentation in Windeck). In that mail Dick Dekker accused us, the operator of the hall and me, of having financially cheated Laura at the event at Bürgerkulturzentrum Windeck. According to his estimation there had been at least 150 people in the audience, hence Laura had to receive a four digit remuneration. Laura, as Dick wrote on, had been cheated many, many times in her life, and he, Dick Dekker, would never forgive me for that. According to Mr Dekker I had talked nonsense and allowed people to attend the event for free, including giving access to third-class (!) reporters. The moderator had been too expensive and had only said three sentences. Never before did Laura earn so little money and she feels very much cheated by us.
All the effort was in vain - acknowledgement or even thanks? Forge it! I somewhat expected something like that would come from Dick Dekker. In fact we, West North and I, have experienced similar attitude and then some in the past from Mr Dekker but accusing me of cheating Laura is on a totally different level. Of course, I immediately wrote to Laura and asked her about it. I have had no answer yet however this doesn’t necessarily mean that she shares her father’s opinion. Hence, after the book presentation in Hamburg we, Laura Daniel and I, had a brief chat about the film documentary about Laura’s journey, and as it turns out her opinion is very much different from what her father says in public. In all his statements he has kept up the impression that in fact he is expressing Laura’s opinion. But as Laura said herself : ‘’ (Laura: “I find it [Maidentrip] nice, except for some minor issues.”)."
For my part I told Dick Dekker in very clear words that I reject his accusations and find them totally inacceptable after all I did for Laura and him since the summer of 2010. I also put his statement in doubt about Laura never earning so little from a presentation. In subsequent mails Mr Dekker got caught up in contradictions about the conditions for Laura’s speech on the one hand and Laura’s statements towards me on the other hand.
Eventually, Laura’s blog of October 24 turned out to be a big disappointment. Not a single word about Windeck, no thanks to the people who got involved with it, not even a photo. But what did I expect? After 360 translations from Dutch to English of Laura’s blog and the other work I did, no mention or public thanks. For some reason the phrase “thanks for your help” doesn’t suit the Dekker family’s self-image. This, of course, would be a confession that they need others and that is a complete no-go.
To me it’s especially disappointing that Laura as it seems, was more interested by her remuneration for her speech than getting in touch with her fans. What did Laura say once? „In Holland and Europe they only think of money.“ I had always hoped that Laura was different.
Let’s hope that Laura will learn soon that she can’t continuously treat other people with disregard. And I would like to quote a famous German circumnavigator :’ maybe these words were spoken in the wind.’