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14-year-old sails Atlantic alone

A 14-YEAR-old British schoolboy has become the youngest person to sail solo across the North Atlantic Ocean after a voyage of more than six weeks. *Michael Perham battled shark-infested waters and huge waves since taking three weeks off school and setting out from the tiny British dependent territory of Gibraltar, off southern Spain, on November 18.


14-year-old British boy Michael Perham standing opposite his boat, taken in Gibraltar harbour. - AFP

"It feels absolutely fantastic being back on dry land, absolutely brilliant,'' he told BBC television from the Caribbean island of Antigua, where his arrival today was greeted by a steel band and a welcoming party of boats.

"It was a really fantastic trip. I enjoyed almost every minute of it,'' he said following the 3500-nautical-mile voyage using the trade winds that have carried sailors from Europe past Africa to the Americas for centuries. The sailor's British-based spokesman, Kizzi Nkwocha, said Michael had become an inspiration to millions of youngsters.

"He's looking forward to being back on dry land, having a decent steak meal and seeing his family and friends again,'' he said. Michael's boat, the 8.5m *Cheeky Monkey*, was being tailed in a separate vessel by his father Peter, an experienced sailor, with whom he was in regular radio contact.

Mr Perham told the BBC from Antigua: "It has taken quite a while to get here but we are pleased to be here.'' The youngster started sailing when he was seven and was inspired to break the record after Briton Sebastian Clover, 15, sailed from the Canary Islands, off the Moroccan coast, to Antigua in 2003.

Michael had been expected to complete the voyage yesterday but his arrival in Antigua was delayed by 24 hours by a last-minute hitch with a sail, the last of a number of setbacks. Michael also had to stop off at the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands following equipment problems. On another occasion he carried out emergency repairs outside the yacht.

"I did get quite scared when I found out he had to tie a rope around his waist and dive into the water to fix something and when he was talking about sharks,'' his mother Heather told *The Times*.

Deputy Prime Minister and former merchant seaman John Prescott also congratulated him. "Michael has proved himself another hugely successful sailor in the great British maritime tradition,'' said Mr Prescott. Michael's mother told *The Times *that he would have a lot of school work to catch up on'' when he returned to school in Hatfield, just north of London.

While on board he managed to do some homework as well as keep a log, which was published on a website. Michael is planning his next trip - an attempt to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

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