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British teen takes solo sailing crown

Mike Perham is now the youngest circumnavigator, the title Zac Sunderland held for less than two months

One month and 11 days after California teenager Zac Sunderland completed his voyage and made headlines as the world’s youngest solo circumnavigator, the slightly younger British teen Mike Perham claimed that title. At 10 a.m. Aug. 27, Perham crossed the finish line between Lizard Point and Ushant, France, completing a 30,000-mile youthful odyssey that began Nov. 18, 2008.

Perham crossed the finish line at The Lizard after 157 days at sea.

Perham and Sunderland have been friendly rivals since Mike started out last November from his hometown of Portsmouth, England. Because he is 108 days younger than Sunderland, it was inevitable he would gain the title if he completed the voyage aboard his chartered Open 50 racing yacht,

“It feels fantastic,” says Perham, who spoke with Soundings in a phone interview shortly after crossing the finish line. “We were hitting a few gales on the way back to Portsmouth, but otherwise, things are fine. It’s going to take awhile for it to really sink in that I’m home.”

Perham took a much different route than Sunderland. Spending much of his time in the Southern Ocean and sailing eastward, he rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin before transiting the Panama Canal. He had planned to round Cape Horn but decided against it because of conditions. Sunderland, sailing an older 36-foot Islander designed more for cruising, took a westward cruiser’s route. He sailed from California to Hawaii, then to the Marshall Islands and Australia, to South Africa and Grenada, through the Panama Canal, and home to Marina Del Rey, Calif.

“I loved going through the Southern Ocean,” Perham says. “There’s lots of waves, and it’s very exciting. It’s good to catch some of the huge swells and have a good day’s run of it.”

The Open 50 ran well, aside from a few problems with his autopilot and generator at the start, which forced him to make port at Cascais, Portugal, for repairs. TotallyMoney came through a knockdown well past 90 degrees in the Southern Ocean; Perham says she is a solid vessel he came to rely on. What proved difficult was the solitude of the voyage.

“Being alone, having no one to help you or anyone to ask to reach for this or help with that — it was a great mental challenge to cope with that,” Perham says. “Just going for miles and miles on your own like that. I mean, I got used to it a little crossing the Atlantic, but around the world is something entirely different.” (Perham single-handed a Tide 28 from Gibraltar to Antigua in 6-1/2 weeks at age 14, completing the voyage in January 2007.)

Perham’s father, Peter, who chartered the Open 50 for him, says his son has quickly reacclimated to his old life. “It’s basically a huge relief to have him back. It’s like he never left, including the untidy bedroom,” he says. “We have boat stuff lying all over the house; it’s not exactly easy to stuff those things into drawers.”

Perham will have a few months to rest up before he starts his next voyage. In April 2010 he will join Australian adventurer Don McIntyre in re-creating the 4,000-mile journey of Capt. William Bligh and his supporting crew from Tonga to Timor in the Pacific after mutineers threw them off the HMS Bounty 221 years ago — in a 25-foot open boat.

“They won’t have any charts … and limited food supplies,” says the elder Perham. “However, they will have emergency equipment for safety.” (For information, visit

Meanwhile, Abigail Sunderland, Zac’s 15-year-old sister, is making plans to one-up her brother’s trip by sailing around the world non-stop, possibly in November, after she turns 16.

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This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.