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Dutch girl, 14, ready to set sail on solo world trip

PORTIMAO, Portugal - A 14-year-old Dutch girl will set off Saturday on a controversial attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, her representatives said.

Laura Dekker's ambition of completing the yearlong trip has fueled a global debate over the wisdom of allowing young sailors to take on the tremendous risks of sailing the high seas alone.

The girl, who grew up on a sailboat, faces challenges including favorable winds to send her across the Atlantic Ocean from a marina in the city of Portimao at the southwestern tip of Portugal.

Late Friday, seas were so calm that the ocean looked like a mirror, and Laura was still out in her boat, performing last-minute tests on her red-hulled 38-foot yacht named "Guppy." A court last month released Laura from the guardianship of Dutch child protection agencies who had tried to block her voyage because of fears about her safety.

In June, American Abby Sunderland, 16, had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during an attempt to circle the globe. Earlier this year, Australian Jessica Watson, completed a 210-day voyage at age 16. But while Watson remained at sea nonstop, Laura plans to stop at dozens of ports and may even return home to catch up on her studies before resuming her trip.

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