вторник, 6 декабря 2016 г.
WONDERBOY: Teen yacht star's shark terror
It helped 14-year-old Michael Perham conquer huge waves and survive encounters with sharks and inquisitive whales.
But most of all the words from mum Heather comforted him during his loneliness on the endless ocean — as he became the youngest sailor to make the 3,500-mile voyage single-handedly.
Speaking exclusively to the News of the World after we flew out to meet him in the Caribbean, Michael said: "I put myself in solitary confinement for 47 days. It was very lonely.
"My mum wrote me a message on a card to take with me.
"It read. ‘May the road rise before you. May the waves be on your back and may God hold you in the palm of his hand'.
"I kept that card in my cabin and I'd keep repeating the words to myself when things were really tough. It was such a source of strength for me."
Michael, a schoolboy studying for his GCSEs, needed every ounce of that strength as he battled crashing 25ft waves and Force 9 gales, and swam in shark-infested waters — diving beneath his hull in the freezing cold to free his tiller after it became snared by a floating rope.
"I had no choice," he said matter-of-factly. "The rope had set the steering out.
"I stripped down to my boxers and tied myself to the side of the boat then jumped in.
"The rope was caught about a foot underneath the boat so I had to dive under."
Eventually Michael managed to free the rope and scramble back on board. But as he worked in the murk and swell, he had little idea of the deadly danger around him.
These were shark waters.
And just days later a black fin broke the water, slicing and criss-crossing through the waves. It trailed the boat for five minutes before sinking below the surface.
"That was quite scary to think I'd been been swimming in shark territory," said Michael, of Potters Bar, Herts.
"But if I had the same situation again I'd do exactly the same thing. The steering just had to be fixed."
Then, deep in the night, a sickening crunch jolted his 27ft yacht.
"I was used to the boat being battered left, right and centre but nothing like this," said Michael. "I thought about going out on deck but I was in the middle of a heavy storm.
"Next morning I saw a chunk out of the side of my boat. It could have been a whale."
Indeed, on the trip a three-ton 17ft pilot whale had risen from the depths to gaze at the craft sweeping past.
But a more amazing sight was the school of dolphins that became lonely Michael's mid-Atlantic companions.
"They'd range from one to 20 of them. They'd sometimes follow me for a whole afternoon playing on the bow," he smiled. "It was a beautiful sight."
Michael began his journey last November, sailing his yacht Cheeky Monkey — his family's nickname for him — from Gibraltar to Antigua in the Caribbean.
He had a specially-extended holiday and even took some of his school books with him.
The voyage also raised thousands for charity — particularly Children In Need and the Royal Yacht Association's Sailability for disabled people.
For food Michael survived on tinned meals of ravioli, stews and casseroles, plus some bread. And, as he had no fridge, just lukewarm water to drink.
Along the way he faced 25ft waves and suffered two major problems — when his self-steering gear broke and then he had a communications blackout.
It meant he wasn't even able to contact his father Peter, who was shadowing him in another yacht, miles behind.
Michael, who began sailing aged six, said: "If I had gone overboard or got into trouble no one would have known."
Fortunately both problems were fixed. And this week he sailed into Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua...and into the history books, celebrating with steak and "big, fat chips."
Mum Heather, whose words inspired Michael, said proudly: "He's made it look incredibly easy — but it wasn't."