Thirteen-year-olds have big dreams, but how many of them actively pursue — and realize — those dreams? How many can function for more than a day or two without a hand to hold or a friend to steer them back to what’s comfortable? Perhaps, you’ve thought of some precocious little outlier by now.

Alright — has the kid been struck by brutal swells and blasts of wind while rounding the Cape of Good Hope on the final leg of a record-breaking voyage? Enter Laura Dekker, the subject of Jillian Schlesinger’s new documentary, Maidentrip.

As the sun set on her fourth day at sea, Dekker called the rapidly dying light “extraordinary.” But beautiful as the sunset was, “extraordinary” seems like an ill-fitting word to describe something that happens every day. The girl who observed it, however, is a different story. After a 10-month legal battle with Dutch authorities, Dekker was finally cleared to embark upon her dream trip — a solo voyage around the world aboard a tiny sailboat called “Guppy”– with no chase boat and no external support. After sailing for 519 days and covering 27,000 nautical miles, she floated into port at St. Maarten, becoming the youngest person in history to sail around the world alone. She was 16. “Remarkable” or “fascinating” may come to mind; words that probably occurred to Schlesinger before she started working on the film.

Unfortunately for viewers of Maidentrip, Dekker’s adventure also happens to entail much tedium. More critically, the point of the film in which she stars is left unclear. It’s billed as a “coming of age” story, but Dekker’s personality traits — fierce independence, ambition, and stubbornness, to name a few — remain constant from beginning to end. It’s incredible how little she changes throughout the film, a surprising (if suggestive) fact. Are other people major features of her life or are they mere afterthoughts? If she genuinely loves the isolation that sailing affords her, why is she so restless at sea and always in such a hurry to arrive at port? Why did she even agree to star in the film? These questions make Maidentrip a stunted effort, simultaneously grand, inspiring, and exhausting.

Schlesinger has written and produced a number of documentaries, most notably Minustah volé kabrit about the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (which she produced) and Blood Sweat and Gears: Racing Clean to the Tour de France (for which she did research). Furthermore, the list of on-air promotions she’s written, edited and produced is prodigious. Her work has appeared on AMC, Sundance Channel, and BBC America, among others. Maidentrip (which won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival and the Festival Director’s Award at Mountainfilm in Telluride) is Schlesinger’s first attempt at a feature film, and she couldn’t have picked more difficult material to sculpt into a consummate whole.

Although it sounds riveting, a film about circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat is bound to contain long stretches of nothingness. Sure, there are occasional snags and storms, but this is no Life of Pi. Maidentrip sometimes gets by on the sheer force of Dekker’s individuality and grit, which are formidable features of the film. But the conflicts in Maidentrip are often confusing contrivances, such as Dekker’s desire to visit New Zealand — somehow thwarted by her desire to finish the journey. After watching reel after reel of leisurely island downtime, it must be asked: why would this detour prevent her from finishing? It may sound like a bizarre critique, but be forewarned: the trip goes smoothly. By no means would it be desirable to watch Dekker suffer some catastrophic — or even relatively tame — mishap, but this calls into question the wisdom of a documentary about 27,000 miles in a sailboat. A film like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours works because the protagonist is subjected to the very conditions we would hate to see forced upon Dekker.

All too frequently, you’ll find yourself asking why you’re watching someone else’s (admittedly lovely) vacation. You’ll watch Dekker ride a bicycle with new friends, play with her sister, hike a few beautiful trails, scuba dive, and listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s all quite pleasant, but it’s also largely quotidian.

The most captivating sequence in Maidentrip comes near the beginning. When Dekker first announced her trip, the Dutch High Court in Utrecht intervened by assuming partial custody. The resulting international furor persisted for months, as debates about child protection and independence swirled around Dekker and her family. On December 18, 2009, Dekker went missing. She was found two days later on St. Martin, off the coast of Venezuela. Her return to the Netherlands was met with derision and condescension, the essence of which was captured in a comment made by Joost Lanshage of Bureau Youth Care, “She had a dream and it fell apart — that round-the-world trip. In the end, she collapsed under the weight of the attention that generated and the dream being shattered. She is looking for some order.” Although Dekker announced her plan to circle the globe in late 2009, the Dutch authorities didn’t yield until July 27, 2010. This 10-month saga was given only two minutes in the film, and this was a mistake on Schlesinger’s end. The insulting quotation above could have been counterposed with Dekker’s triumphant arrival at St. Maarten, but Schlesinger didn’t want to focus on this pivotal aspect of the story.

There’s also the issue of Dekker’s plodding (almost nonexistent) personal development. You get the sense that she hasn’t changed significantly since toddlerhood. Her plucky adventurousness and aversion to human interaction seem completely immovable. Upon revisiting the beginning of Maidentrip, it was easy to see the physical transformation that had taken place over the course of her journey. But as she floated into port at St. Maarten at the close of her trip, it was the same defiant, self-sufficient spirit that lamented the crowds and cameras, “I just wanted to continue sailing…wanted to stay in that quiet spot. I could deal with everything — with high waves, with a lot of winds, with loneliness. But people? And media? I almost just sailed straight to Trinidad or Barbados.”

This would be more acceptable if Maidentrip didn’t try to concoct the image of a reformed, more sociable Dekker near the end. After we meet Bruno, Dekker’s new and only crewman, she says, “There are just some moments that are way more beautiful to just share with someone.” Although this may give some members of the audience a fuzzy sense of progress and resolution, Dekker sounded more convincing minutes prior. Bruno probably won’t keep his job on Guppy for long because, if the rest of Maidentrip is any indication, it’s clear that Dekker is a loner.

For example, when a Dutch journalist comes aboard to ask her a few questions, Dekker is dismissive at best and churlish at worst. As Schlesinger will tell you, the film is full of contradictions because teenagers are full of contradictions. Dekker claims to have absolutely no interest in being enshrined in the history books or even in occupying a privileged place in the world’s memory, but she’s adamantly recording her journey. She’s a loving daughter, but when talking about her father’s visit, she says, “It sucks.” When pressed for an explanation, her reply is blunt and crude, “Look, I haven’t seen my dad in a really long time, so I don’t miss him anymore.” She then orders the reporter to “shut up.” It isn’t fun or engaging to watch a petulant teenager sneer at an adult.

“I love being alone. I feel like freedom is when you’re not attached to anything,” Dekker says. At one point, she recounts an extremely suggestive story about a French sailor who raced around the world to win prize money for his family. What she views as an inspirational ending will, for most people, seem sour and strange. As the sailor was closing in on victory, Dekker tells us, “…he just said ‘fuck it, I’m gonna continue into the Pacific.’ Just walked away from it. Didn’t finish.” Dekker feels much affinity for this man who could have won the race and supported his family with the earnings, but decided a protracted vacation was more worthwhile. Some people prefer the depths of their own imaginations to the presence of others, just as some prefer the depths of the sea to the confines of land. Dekker’s trip was a confirmation of this aspect of her personality, and that’s fine. But if it’s not a mindset you share, you’ll likely find it off-putting. More importantly, Maidentrip is neurotic about Dekker’s strong inclination toward independence, evidenced by the Bruno ending and the occasional insistence that Dekker is social and family-oriented. Again, it’s never convincing.

Still, there are things to enjoy in Maidentrip. Given the reliance on handheld, amateur footage, the presentation is remarkably crisp. For some, the grandeur of the sea, the pristine beauty of the locations on display, and Dekker’s unique personality will be enough to warrant an hour and 20-minute commitment. And it’s possible that other viewers will find it easier to identify with Dekker and the isolation she craves. Schlesinger is a talented director who did her best to forge a watchable film here, but the source material is simply too unforgiving. Most of the time, it’s a teenager, a boat, and a camera. Even Hitchcock or Spielberg would have a rough time making that formula work.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

“Maidentrip” is currently playing nationwide. For specific dates and locations, please visit

Trailer Courtesy of: First Run Features.

Cincopa WordPress plugin

Featured image: Laura Dekker on her solo, around-the-world sailing voyage, as seen in “Maidentrip,” a film by Jillian Schlesinger. A First Run Features release.