Youngest solo sailor returns to UK

Three years ago, at the tender age of 14, he became the youngest person to sail solo across the Atlantic, smashing a world record in the process. Today, he returned triumphantly to British waters having accomplished an even more remarkable and dangerous feat.

Mike Perham, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, is now the youngest person to sail solo around the world, after an epic nine-month voyage.

At 9.55am this morning, he steered his trusty 50ft racing yacht across the finishing line between Lizard Point in Cornwall and Ushant in France. Since setting off from Portsmouth last November, he had fought 50ft waves and gale force winds over 30,000 miles of ocean – and also celebrated his 17th birthday in the South Indian Ocean.

Although he had aimed to complete the voyage without making any stops, technical problems forced him onto dry land on several occasions. His record therefore applies to “assisted” solo circumnavigation.

When The Independent spoke to him today, Mike had been joined by his father Peter and the pair were sailing through the English Channel towards Portsmouth, where he will arrive on Saturday after 158 days at sea.

“To say it feels good would be an understatement,” he said between mouthfuls of digestive biscuit, one of the foods he had missed most. “I’ve always dreamt about sailing around the world, it feels amazing. I feel so happy – not just for me but for the hundreds of people involved with the trip who have worked tirelessly to get me here.”

The teenager’s task was made even more difficult by a series of technical problems with his boat, which hit almost immediately after he set sail. His autopilot system failed almost immediately after he left England, which he said had been “hard to cope with” as it meant he had to stay awake constantly to prevent the boat veering off to one side.

The initial problems lasted for nine days, so by the time he arrived at the Canary Islands he was already physically shattered. His route took him past South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and he was also forced to navigate the Panama Canal after missing the weather window which would have allowed him to sail around the southern tip of South America.

“I did get frightened sometimes – if I hadn’t I think it would be a bit strange,” he said. “There were quite a few moments where I genuinely thought: ‘Uh oh, that’s not good.’ But I was always convinced I was going to finish, that I would get there eventually. I didn’t go out there to fight the ocean, I just prayed that it would be nice to me.”

The teenager, who speaks with such assurance that it would be easy to mistake him for a man twice his age, is a member of a growing group of intrepid adolescents intent on conquering the Earth’s oceans.

Last month, an American named Zac Sunderland who was two months older than Mike completed a similar round-the-world trip, briefly holding the record. Laura Dekker, a 13-year-old Dutch teenager who was born on a boat, has also stated her intention to tackle the voyage, as has Jessica Watson, 16, from Australia.

“These sailors seem to be getting younger and younger. I don’t know why,” said Peter Perham. “But when I look at Mike, and his abilities and skill levels, I don’t know how much younger it could get, because you need to be so mentally and physically strong to do all of the necessary things at sea. He’s not a typical adolescent with a rebellious mindset, he’s definitely old beyond his years.”

To keep his strength up during the journey, Mike took on 5,000 calories a day, eating almost constantly. In the yacht’s small kitchen, he prepared vast quantities of pasta and rice to add to his staple diet of freeze-dried and tinned food.

His achievement also drew plaudits from Dee Caffari, the only woman to sail solo, non-stop in both directions around the world.

“What Mike has achieved is fantastic,” she said. “I am sure he will have learnt and developed a great deal during the months he has been away. The Mike that will return will be very different to the Mike that left all those months ago. He has had to make some very difficult decisions along the way and some of these have been very grown up ones that would have been difficult to make.”

The teenager’s family has strong maritime connections. His father was a merchant naval officer, his grandfather served with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and his great-grandfather was a Royal Marine in the Crimean war.

In recognition of this, he was escorted across the finish line by the Royal Navy guard ship HMS Mersey and was sent a special congratulatory message by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

“This is a remarkable and inspirational achievement in one so young, another impressive event in the rich maritime history of this island nation and of the Perham family,” the message read.

“Michael sets a fine example showing remarkable character, grit and self discipline in completing this his

toric record-breaking voyage and the Royal Navy is delighted to participate in welcoming him back home to the UK as an honoured and much-respected fellow seafarer.”

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game