14-year-old set to become youngest person to sail solo across the Atlantic


Last updated at 22:00 29 December 2006

At midnight on December 24, 14 year old Michael Perham set off a collision warning flare and celebrated Christmas with a spectacular light show in the middle of the ocean.

His 28-ft yacht had already been bedecked with an inflatable Santa in the rigging as he edged ever closer to making history by becoming the youngest person to sail across the Atlantic single handed.

The teenager, from land-locked Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, set off from Gibraltar on the 3,500-mile voyage to the Caribbean on November 18.

He hopes to reach his destination off the island of Antigua, and break the world record for the youngest unaided sailor across the ocean, on January 2.

Speaking by satellite phone from his yacht, Cheeky Monkey 600 miles from Antigua, Michael said he was "cruising along quite nicely."

"The weather is gorgeous. The wind's quite high and I'm getting clear blue skies almost every day. This is the longest trip I've ever done. I'm coping fine," he said.

He is missing warm toast, cold drinks and crisps, but his diet of "mainly Tesco tinned food" was reliable, he said. "You empty the tin and five minutes later - voila!"

He added: "Sometimes you feel a bit lonely, but I expected that. On any long distance journey there are moments that get you down. But you don't have much time to feel down."

His daring voyage has been full of high and lows.

The trip was scheduled to be completed before Christmas but had to be extended after satellite equipment on his boat failed and he was forced to make a diversion to Lanzarote and the Cape Verde islands.

But that has done nothing to diminish his enjoyment of his real life "Boys' Own" adventure, during which he has sailed alongside dolphins, whales and sharks, and experienced the forces of nature and the weather at their most exhilarating.

Michael's father, Peter, 47, a chartered surveyor and experienced yachtsman, is following two miles behind his son and keeps regular radio contact with him.

In his latest diary entry, for December 27, on the voyage website www.sailmike.com, Michael says: "At 5.30 am this morning Dad contacted me to tell me his starboard cap shroud, which holds up the mast was broken.

"As a substitute he's using one of the halliards and he says that's doing a really good job. I was really disappointed when I heard the news because I thought that we would have to go a bit slower, which means we will take longer to get to Antigua.

"However when we looked at out run at mid-day we were still doing over 6 knots, so that's really cool.

"I'm still doing my count down, only six days to go now. Good news from the PR agency, when we arrive, we will be staying at the Antigua Yacht Club Marina Resort. It sounds really fantastic and I can't wait to sleep in a proper bed and have a scrumptious meal."

Michael, a pupil at Chancellor's School in Brookmans Park, took three weeks off school to complete the voyage during which he used the trade winds that have carried sailors from Europe to the Americas for centuries. He is being sponsored by local companies.

In another diary entry from the first week of the voyage, Michael writes: "Experienced my first experience of squalls, they really do knock your teeth out."

On December 16, he recorded: "The weather's really warmed up so I've been sun bathing at every opportunity.

"Another flying fish jumped into the cockpit today and my dad said he saw a great long shark following him when we were drifting around. About 12ft long he reckons! Scary stuff, I'm glad that didn't jump into my cockpit."

The next day was slightly more sedate: "Dad and I played Battleships in the day time over the VHF radio and we also played noughts and crosses."

Michael, who has sailed since the age of seven, first volunteered the idea of breaking the transatlantic record three years ago, after watching footage of a previous record attempt.

His father said: "Michael said to me: 'It would be great if I could do that, Dad.' As a parent I just thought it was a typical boy's dream. I never thought it would actually happen.

"The poor lad has had no [Christmas] presents, nothing. And he's run out of snacks but I can't give him any because the rules say I can't help him in any way.

"I'm immensely proud of him. The school was very supportive - the headteacher said he would learn more in a few weeks on the ocean that he would at school."

Father and son will fly back from Antigua. Michael's boat will be transported back by ship to the UK. His father's will be sold in Antigua.

Michael's mother Heather Perham, 50, who has remained on dry land in the UK during the voyage with Michael's sister Fiona, 16, said: "I'm really, really, really proud of him.

"The last few weeks have been quite an emotional rollercoaster but it's been very exciting.

"I was a bit surprised when Michael said he wanted to do this, but he has proved that you can have an adventure whatever your age as long as you have the skills and maturity to cope with what you're taking on."

Mrs Perham added: "I sail a little bit but I'm nowhere near as experienced as my husband and Michael. I'm quite good at the helm, but I don't know quite what all the sails do yet!"

Michael is raising money for charity on his voyage and has so far raised around £1,000 for Children In Need and £600 for Royal Yachting Association Sailability.

Extracts from Michael Perham's diary

December 25

We started celebrating Christmas day at midnight on Christmas Eve by cracking open a collision warning flare each. When we put that on top of an orange it became probably the brightest Christingle the world has ever seen.

At 4 O'clock in the afternoon we put the clocks back 4 hours to be on Antigua time and that means we've probably had the longest Christmas Day in the world. Our Christmas day lasted 28 hours!

December 15

I noticed my self steering was stiff and discovered some rope had become tangled in the gear. Unfortunately the only option I had was to tie a rope round my waist, dive in and cut the rope away!

December 11

I jumped when a flying fish landed on my lap! To occupy myself I've been singing songs to myself and I've been missing my friends a lot too.

December 8

Gave myself a treat today with a new set of clean, dry clothes. I then had to go to the back of the boat to make some adjustment to the self-steering and this big wave comes over the back of the boat and I'm drenched. I was not at all pleased at the time but looking back on it, it made me laugh!!

December 4

Had a fantastic display of dolphins before sunset, they must have been with the boat for at least 2hrs just jumping up in the air and being absolutely crazy at times. One dolphin made a huge jump out of the top of a wave, it was amazing.

November 23

Today we spent most of the time drifting around, well that's not quite true, I went off in search of the wind and at one time was going 4 knots in the wrong direction!

I was escorted today by 20 bottlenose dolphins all doing tricks and dancing round the front of the boat, which was really cool. The water here is absolutely amazing, when you look at the colour blue it's a colour blue I can't really describe it's so beautiful.

I'm really, really happy and so grateful to Mum and Fiona for allowing me on this trip.

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