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Tuesday, September 16 2014 @ 07:22 AM EDT

Zac Sunderland's British sailing rival fires shot across his bow

Boats and Sailing Los Angeles Times - While Zac Sunderland plods slowly north off Baja California, less than 300 miles from home after a 13-month around-the-world odyssey, Mike Perham, his British counterpart, has entered the Panama Canal. Tale of the tape: Both sailors are 17. Zac is a few months older, though, so not long after he becomes the youngest person to sail alone around the world, Mike is expected to complete his journey and claim that distinction. Zac's trip is not well-funded. He's on a smaller (36-foot), older, much slower boat. Mike's journey is fully sponsored. He's aboard a 50-foot racing yacht whose sails might be worth as much as Zac's entire vessel. Mike left England months after Zac left Marina del Rey and were it not for a series of boat issues he'd have easily beaten his Yankee rival to the record. Mike is due home in early August. Fighting words: Zac and Mike are not friends and Mike recently issued a statement on his blog that could be perceived as being directed at Zac: "Usually cruising boats making this trip up from New Zealand or Australia would use their engine during these light conditions to make good progress -- but due to the nature of my trip, which is to sail around the world, I haven't and I won't use the engine to push me even one nautical mile around the planet.... Using my engine wouldn't be right or fair!" (more) (See Comment)

Editor's Comment: We first made contact with Mike Perham via satellite phone last week as he was completing his crossing of the Pacific Ocean and making his way towards Panama. First we expected him on Monday of this week. Then Tuesday, and then finally he arrived on Wednesday morning. The wind conditions were so poor it took him three days to cover what he normally would have done in less than one. And as far as using the motor is concerned? Mike didn't actually have a choice because the fuel pump was fouled anyway, and the motor has not been available for quite some time. Actually, Mike was relatively concerned about the lack of a working motor as he approached Panama because of the heavy traffic in the shipping lanes, and there's always the possibility that one of those big ships might not have spotted him. Anyway, it turned out to not be a problem and Mike arrived under sail. Here in Panama the mechanics of the Panama Sailing School have since fixed the fuel pump and Mike will be taking his boat out for sea trials tomorrow. During the inspection of the boat they also found some problems with the rigging that will have to be repaired before Mike can get back underway so his stay here in Panama will be extended slightly.

(Comments End, Article Continues)

Zac has used his motor, sparingly, he says. He used it while trying to escape the path of a presumed pirate vessel bearing down on him in the Indian Ocean. He used it while backtracking to a Mexican port to beat the predicted arrival of an advancing hurricane. In a March 8 blog post, he wrote about motoring during a long windless period, which clearly was picked up by Mike's camp.

When Zac entered port recently in Puerto Vallarta, his motor had 400 hours of use, which seems insignificant considering the duration and length of his excursion. Said harbormaster Dick Markie, whose port is used to prep sailors for circumnavigations: "You get into positions where you have no choice; that's the reason there's a motor on the boat."

Charlie Nobles, executive director of the American Sailing Assn., added: "At the end of the day, the challenges are not whether you sit for an extra day or two [in no wind] and don't use your motor, it's all the other stuff you've been through, so I don't think you can really say that diminishes it."

Zac assured in an interview that Mike has used his motor too, "while sailing through storms and stuff." Beyond that, though, he refused to comment.

-- Pete Thomas

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