The teenager's round the world record attempt is still very risky, but I'm marvelling at his achievement
The time has come for some of us to give credit where it’s due and admit we that maybe we had it wrong.
Whether or not we are witnessing history in the making, one thing’s for sure: a courageous and exciting sailing hero is being formed in front of our eyes.
I’m talking about Mike Perham, the teenage sailor who celebrated his 17th birthday at sea two weeks ago deep in the Southern Ocean. Now south of Tasmania, he is halfway through his attempt to become the youngest person to sail round the world solo.
I hope he succeeds but ultimately even if he doesn’t his achievement is incredible. My colleague Dick Durham at Yachting Monthly brought me up with a round turn last week when he pointed out that this is a boy not yet old enough to vote or buy a beer.
(The photo above shows him opening his birthday presents and holding a book on driving test theory. When he gets back he will be old enough to start driving a car!)
When Mike and his Dad Peter announced their plans at the Southampton Boat Show in September, a lot of us were worried by their lack of preparation and apparent naivety. Mike set off without as much as a single day’s solo experience in the boat.
Rod Carr, chief executive of the RYA, pleaded with Peter Perham to delay the voyage so his son could accrue more experience. He did not think it at all wise to short change sea time for the sake of what is, in effect, a publicity stunt defined by its expiry date.
Neither did Mark Turner, the business partner of Ellen MacArthur, who was also concerned about the choice of boat. When his company chartered the same Open 50 for no less a sailor than Nick Moloney, he pointed out, Moloney at times found it hair-raising downwind.
And when Skip Novak met the teenager en route in Cape Town earlier this year he felt compelled to write to us with his misgivings, a letter we have published in our May issue.
Those of us who have closely followed or been involved in round the world projects instinctively felt the Perhams didn’t know what they didn’t know. When I talked to Mike’s Dad, he argued that best way for Mike to learn was to set off, go out there and do it.
It was an eery echo in long since changed times of the Nigel Tetley/Donald Crowhurst/Chay Blyth defence: pick it up as you go along. Some merit; a lot of risk.
So underneath what might have sounded like straightforward scepticism was real and well-meaning concern for the boy’s safety. No doubt Mike has had a steep learning curve. A voyage that originally was to be non-stop has had three halts in Portugal, the Canaries and Cape Town to fix autopilot and presumably other problems.
But Mike clearly has learned as he’s gone along. I’m astounded by his incredibly upbeat and mature blogs . Do please read them and admire the sheer scale of his achievement.
To sail halfway across the Southern Ocean on your own at barely 17, in a beast of an Open 50, enduring rough weather and a knockdown the other day: how do you measure that? It’s amazing.
And yet?.and yet? this is still a risky adventure. Ahead of him is 6,000 miles of empty Southern Ocean. It’s now very late in the season. The racers have long gone. Winter is on its way; the days are getting shorter.
No matter how far north he is routed, Mike must eventually descend to 56°S to round Cape Horn. The prospect of doing so in late April or May is a little scary.
But Mike Perham has confounded all sceptics so far, and good on him. May he have every possible fair wind and arrive back safely.