Is it time for the Guinness Book of Records to scupper the youngest round the world category?


Back to the record for the youngest to sail round the world. Much as I admire what Mike Perham has done, I’ll have to rejoin those with serious misgivings about the wisdom of promoting this after reading of 16-year-old Jessica Watson’s serious collision with a 63,000 tonne cargo vessel, which left her boat dismasted and damaged.

The Australian was sailing overnight on a training voyage for her round the world bid later this year when she was run down by the ship, which she had reportedly tried raising repeatedly on VHF radio. The incident has been described by her father as a ‘hit and run’ and she is said to have escaped injury herself by bracing herself in her bunk.

Whatever way you look at it, Jessica is lucky to be alive. These sort of incidents can and do happen to the most experienced sailors, but there is an additional inherent risk in sailing solo and, you could argue, if the solo sailor in question is very young and therefore necessarily lacking in sea time and experience.

When those risks are being taken at a certain age or a certain time primarily to make a deadline that is for media exposure, it is to some degree a publicity stunt, so it’s inevitable and quite right to question the wisdom of the venture.

Even the record for the youngest solo round the world is buckling under internecine squabbling. Who holds the real, real record? Some Australians are saying it’s Jesse Martin because, unlike Briton Mike Perham, he went round non-stop and unassisted.

As it happens, two well-known solo sailors contacted me this week querying Mike Perham’s achievement, saying they thought a round the world record had to be, or should be, south of all the Great Capes. Not so, actually (the World Speed Sail Record Council sets their criteria simply as an orthodromic route of at least 21,600 miles crossing every meridian), but the increasing gradations and distinctions are beginning to make a bit of a mockery of it all.

What will be it next? We’ll have to have a list of ‘youngest’ records for all contenders: stopping/non-stop, assisted/unassisted, south of Great Capes/Panama Canal, male/female.

Oh, enough already.