Sailing schoolboy has new device flown out from UK

Mike Perham, the British teenager attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world, is beset with yet more auto-pilot problems. The 16-year-old from Potters Bar, Herts, who made an unscheduled stop in Cape Town, South Africa, to service his rudder, said that while out on a test sail with his father a ‘fail’ message flashed up on the AP which could not be reset.

Mike, who set out on his circumnavigation bid last November, has been plagued with problems concerning his French NKE auto pilot. The young yachtsman was forced to stop in Portugal and then the Cape Verdes to fix the device, putting paid to his attempt to sail around the world non-stop. He is now having a brand new B&G auto-pilot flown out from the UK.

Zac Sunderland, the 17-year-old American in a rival bid to become the youngest person to sail around the world, departed Cape Town last week. His route will take him in the opposite direction to Mike, across the Atlantic and then through the Panama Canal before turning north for his home ion California. Mike is planning to sail across the Southern Ocean to Australia and then on to Cape Horn. His mechanical problems mean that he will be leaving worryingly late in the season.

Mike writes: ‘Dad and I got up really early for the test sail and we cast off happy and full of optimism. After eventually clearing the harbour and negotiating lots of traffic, we got set to hoist the main and just then I noticed a “Fail” message on the auto pilot! I reset the system to see if it was any different – no difference. Suddenly it seemed unable to cope with the movement of the rudder, wind direction, the heel of the boat, etc.

‘A major headache! But the worst thing was that it was intermittent, as very often there is no clear problem as to why it’s not working properly all the time. When we phoned NKE in France, they could only really suggest a problem with the wiring, which we checked and rechecked.

‘We headed back to harbour feeling thoroughly down in the dumps. Dad agreed that we needed a new pilot, I just can’t keep going with this one. Maybe it’s got a recurring illness. After tying the boat back up we got straight on the phone to make some urgent calls!

‘Last night I sat down on the marina dock, around about 100ft away from I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The sun was coming down, giving way to the late evening and she looked more beautiful and more impressive than ever. And with Table Mountain in the background, she was quite a vision to behold.

‘I felt more happy than I’d ever been; I was desperate to sail her again and get into the business end of the Southern Ocean. I imagined surfing down huge, long waves – brilliant and unstoppable.
And then I thought about the autopilot and this all was wiped away from my mind…


Some of our sponsors have come to the rescue; thanks to them we’ve arranged for a completely new B&G system to be flown out and fitted asap which is brilliant news. Finally there’s light!
The kit was put together by the guys at the B&G UK head office and posted to us around midday on next day delivery airmail. The fastest possible way to get it here…We have assembled a team to fit the system as soon as it arrives.

It’s amazing how you can feel like everything’s against you and then “Bam!” it all turns around again with the amazing support that we have from our sponsors, family and friends. Now I can look at and day dream once again!’