Across the Atlantic (and back in time for the new school term)

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The Independent Online

It will be three years before 14-year-old Michael Perham can drive a car on his own in Britain, but as he was serenaded into Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua yesterday one thing was clear - he can handle a 28ft yacht.

The teenager staked his claim as the youngest person to sail solo across the Atlantic by steering his vessel into a marina on the Caribbean island at 10am (2pm GMT) at the end of a six-week voyage beset by obstacles from broken steering equipment to suicidal flying fish.

His arrival after crossing 3,500 miles of water from Gibraltar, closely tailed by his father, broke the record set by the British sailor Sebastian Clover, who was 15 when he sailed from the Canaries to Antigua in 2003.

Michael, who was greeted at the dockside by a steel band, said he was elated to have finished his journey and was looking forward to the comforts of a dry bed, his PlayStation and a steak. He said: "It feels absolutely fantastic being back on dry land. Absolutely brilliant. The worst bit was being away from my family and people generally. It was a fantastic trip. I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I am looking forward to a nice warm bed."

The teenager from Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, had hoped to complete the transatlantic journey in about four weeks after setting sail from Gibraltar on 18 November. But bad weather and damage to equipment on both his boat, Cheeky Monkey, and that of his father, Peter, 47, extended the journey.

The last 48 hours of the voyage had to be completed without two of his sails after the rope which holds them tight shredded.

The teenager chronicled his voyage in a blog, revealing that tasks such as diving off the back of his boat to untangle his steering gear had not stopped him finding time to do some GCSE revision or play his guitar.

Michael, who had to wake every alternate hour on most nights to ensure his yacht stayed on course, started sailing at the age of seven. Displaying remarkable confidence, Michael wrote: "It has been really tough steering all through the day and night, at one point I jumped when a flying fish landed on my lap. To occupy myself I've been singing."

Damage to Michael's steering equipment and a satellite telephone forced him and his father, a quantity surveyor, to divert from their chosen route - following trade winds to Lanzarote and the Cape Verde islands - for emergency repairs.

Although solo sailing rules barred Michael from making direct contact with his father, he spent the trip within radio distance. It is unclear which organisation will verify the teenager's record or whether an admission in his blog that his father threw him some cutlery and a tin opener en route, could put the record in doubt.

At home, 4,000 miles away, Michael's mother, Heather, spoke to her son via a video phone: "We are very proud of you," she said. "It's a huge accomplishment and sets an example for other young people to live life to the full."

Michael now has three years to take the record of the youngest solo circumnavigation, held by Jesse Martin, an Australian, who took 327 days to sail from Melbourne to Melbourne, aged 18.

Child prodigies

Ruth Lawrence

Lawrence achieved a grade A at A-level maths at the age of nine and graduated in 1985 from Oxford with a starred first at just 13 - a feat that remains unsurpassed. She was a junior fellow at Harvard by 19 and is now a maths professor in Israel. She is married with two children.

Sufiah Yusof

Yusof rose to national prominence after gaining a place to read maths at Oxford at the age of 13 and then accusing her parents of putting too much pressure on her. She was found working in a Bournemouth hotel and returned to Oxford, but failed to finish. She married in 2004.

William Sidis

At eight, Sidis could speak nine languages, including one he invented. Three years later, in 1909, he went to Harvard. It was predicted that he would become the 20th century's greatest mathematician, but he suffered a mental breakdown and saw out his days collecting tram tickets and teaching history.

Steffi Graf

At five, Steffi had already played her first tournament, and by 13 she was playing professionally. In 1988, aged just 19, she became the first and only player to win the Golden Slam - all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal.

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