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Sunday, October 26 2014 @ 05:38 AM EDT

British teenager Mike Perham aims for round-the-world sailing record

Boats and SailingBy Philip Sherwell in New York for the Telegraph - After surviving ferocious storms, 60 ft waves and emergency underwater repairs, the teenager from Potters Bar is on course to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo. He must first clear the Panama Canal and then sail through the Caribbean and home across the Atlantic. "I'm very chuffed that the next time I step on land, I'll be home," Mike told The Sunday Telegraph as he completed repairs to his rigging before heading into the Canal. While he was awaiting the delivery of a new part in Panama, an American teenager temporarily claimed the record as the youngest single-handed circumnavigator. Zac Sunderland steered his sailboat back into his home port of Marina del Rey, California, on Thursday, aged 17 years, seven months and 17 days. But Mike is more than three months younger than his fellow "yachtboy". And as he expects to complete the last 5,000 miles of his 30,000 mile journey in 25 days, he will then take the crown of youngest round-the-world solo sailor in mid-August. (more)

The two youngsters met in Cape Town as they crossed the globe in different directions and Mike insists they are not rivals. "Was it Zac vs Mike?" he wrote in a blog congratulating his peer. "No. It's two teenagers going out there, living their dream and having the adventure of a lifetime. Once again, well done Zac!" Zac struck a similarly positive note about "teen power" on his return.

"After more than a year alone at sea, I'm struck by how much people my age can actually achieve, if only they have the passion and ability to think beyond what society tells them is possible," he said.

The hairiest moment for Mike, who has learned to get by on 40-muinute catnaps, came as his Open 50 racing yacht was battered by storms in the southern Indian Ocean. One towering wave would crash at the stern as the next one was hitting the bow of totallymoney.com, named after his main sponsor, a company that provides online financial comparisons.

"We we were picked up by what felt like a 60-ft wave and planted down on our side at 90 degrees," he said.

"I was inside the cabin, wedged in behind the table but at one point I had my feet jammed on the ceiling and it felt like we were going right over. Stuff was flying around and I just thought 'Oh crikey'."

That encounter with Mother Nature, shortly after Mike turned 17 in March, forced him to make another unscheduled stop for repairs in Tasmania. His original plan to sail non-stop around the world was scuppered by an early stop to replace his autopilot and what was supposed to be a four-and-half month trip has since stretched to about double that.

At other times, he had to fix problems himself mid-ocean, most dramatically taking a dive into the Pacific to keep his record bid on course when ropes tangled in the rudder. He donned a harness, tied himself securely to the boat, jumped into the water and went to work with a knife in 30-second dives underneath the craft to cut the rope away.

The operation lasted 40 nerve-wracking minutes. "Sure it was a pain to have to jump in and untangle the mess, but it was great to go for a swim," he noted in typically level-headed fashion. "I didn't expect to be doing that in the middle of the Pacific."

The dramas have been accompanied by amazing experiences. He has been followed by dolphins, albatrosses and sea turtles, watched the sky and sea turn a glorious pink as the sun set, sailed under heavens packed with shining stars and even seen a night-time rainbow lit up a by the moon.

His most memorable encounter with wildlife came just off Cape Town. "This massive whale tail appeared right next to the boat and I thought 'Oh crikey'." It has indeed been a journey packed with 'crikey' moments, including dodging hulking tankers during a lightning storm on the way into Panama. At sea, he eats freeze-dried and canned meals, complemented with chocolate bars, and uses a de-salinating machine to make drinking water and squash drinks. "I've really missed my friends and family," he added.

"That is the single hardest part of sailing."

He talks to his support team in Britain - his parents Peter and Heather and a weather expert - by satellite phone and email twice a day, but as a solo sailor, he says he is too busy to get bored. His course work at a college in St Albans has also taken a hit. "I've fallen behind but I'll catch up," he insisted.

Despite his landlocked Home Counties roots, he picked up the sailing bug when his father, a quantity surveyor and keen sailor himself, took him out in a dinghy on a local lake when he was six.

Father and son sailed separate boats across the Atlantic when Mike was 14, making him the youngest person to cross that ocean solo. That record gave him the taste for this even greater challenge.

"The great thing about Mike is that in many ways he's just a typical teenager, with lots of friends, but he's also an extraordinary young man in other ways," said Mr Perham. "He's certainly not one to waste his day in front of a computer screen. He loves to be outdoors."

He will celebrate his homecoming next month with his traditional first post-trip meal of steak and chips. And after circumnavigating the globe, he has a more mundane rite of teenage passage in his sights - learning to drive.

But he may not hold his world record for long - a 16-year-old Australian girl is due to set off on the same mission in September. That does not worry Mike. "I've got some exciting plans in mind," he said "I'll be announcing something soon after I get back."

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