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Young Men and the Sea

Solo circumnavigators keep getting younger

Once upon a time, the coolest teenagers got their parents to let them borrow the car on Friday night. Now kids are taking the yacht, and using it to circle the globe. Last Thursday, Mike Perham, 17, of Portsmouth, England, finished a trip around the world, becoming the youngest sailor to complete a solo circumnavigation. Perham (right), who needed nine months to finish in his 50-foot vessel, turned 17 on March 16—making him 3½ months younger than Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who completed his own solo voyage in July and was briefly on the books as the youngest globetrotter. Wrote Perham on his blog the day before he finished, "I feel like I just want it to keep going, so I can have many more adventures."

An admirable thought, but in the suddenly competitive world of teenage sailing, Perham is getting a bit long in the tooth. Next month 16-year-old Jessica Watson of Buderim, Australia, will shove off on a solo circumnavigation on her boat, Pink Lady. And in November, Sunderland's sister Abby, 15, plans to try to replicate her brother's voyage. "I've been wanting to do this since I was 13," she said last month. "Right as I'm about to finally get to do it, all these other kids start popping up."

The group includes Laura Dekker, a Dutch 13-year-old who was to leave next week on a solo voyage. Last Friday a court in the Netherlands ordered her departure delayed for two months so Laura could undergo a psychological assessment of her readiness for months of isolation at sea. "Thirteen is a young, young age," Perham said last week. "But then I sailed across the Atlantic on my own when I was 14.... For me age is only a number."