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Young sailors, on different paths around the world, weigh their options

May 29, 2009 |  9:30 am

Perham Two 17-year-olds last week climbed Mt. Everest, and there are two 17-year-olds currently on different parts of the planet alone in sailboats, trying to become the youngest person to solo-circumnavigate the planet.

Which is the greater challenge for a teenager -- Everest or a solo global adventure?

I'd tab the latter because the ocean is as unpredictable as Everest but far vaster, and these young men are facing the harsh elements for weeks at a time between ports, alone save for their satellite phones and laptops.

Who will be first, Zac Sunderland of Thousand Oaks or Mike Perham of England?

Sunderland, who is somewhere off Panama and heading up the Eastern Pacific in a 36-foot boat, probably will complete his odyssey in mid- or late June, well before Perham.

But being first might have become secondary to simply finishing for both sailors, who have endured savage seas and monotonous windless stretches that have left them essentially adrift for days.

Both are blogging about their Journey. In Sunderland's latest entry, on Wednesday, he was hugging the coast and considering his route options -- offshore or inshore -- while the Eastern Pacific hurricane season gets underway.

Perham, meanwhile, has left New Zealand and is crossing the Pacific in his 50-foot racing yacht. He had been considering rounding South America's Cape Horn, which can be perilous at this time of year. But he might instead sail northeasterly and pass through the Panama Canal, before crossing the Atlantic on a course for England.

His entry today reads: "I spent a good chunk of the afternoon out on the beanbag enjoying the sunshine and just taking everything in, watching the world go by, as I love to do. I've been thinking about this leg and my route quite a lot also. I still haven’t decided whether to head for Cape Horn or Panama, and as I don't need to make this decision yet, I've got time to think about it."

So speed is no longer of the essence for both young men; safety is, as it should be.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo of Mike Perham courtesy of Totallymoney.com