Last Night’s TV – The Schoolboy Who Sailed the World

by Lynn Connolly

The_Schoolboy_Who_Sailed The World

Michael Perham, the ‘Schoolboy’ of the title, did a remarkable thing; at the age of just 16, he sailed 30,000 miles all by himself. Most 16 year old boys can’t be left in the familiar waters of their own home at 16 without some catastrophe happening.

But while most lads his age are still trying to work out how a washer works – and failing – and can’t get out of bed before the crack of lunchtime, Michael became one of very exclusive group of just 200 people who mastered all the technology and sailing wizardry necessary to go around the world single-handed.

He endured 15 metre waves, winds in excess of 55 knots – not that I know what a ‘knot’ equates to, but I’m guessing it’s pretty windy – and his autopilot conking out with regular monotony. He ended up dealing with it all like a seasoned sea-salt, but there were some tears and panic along the way, and understandably and justifiably so. I suspect if Michael had been cockily over confident, things might not have had such a happy ending.

But the teenager in him wasn’t entirely obliterated in this very grown-up pursuit; he mostly lived on snack food and got drunk on bubbly all by his lonesome and had break-and-make-ups with his girlfriend Beckie.

One particularly moving moment for me was watching the footage of when Michael phoned home on New Year’s Eve. “His poor mum” was my overriding thought. But by far the most lower-lip-awobbling moment was when Michael arrived home. You’d have to actually have no eyes to have not even misted up at that moment.

Those were just two poignant scenes in a film full of them, and as we saw and heard, from the get go it wasn’t all plain sailing – I’m sorry but those words just had to be used; it’s illegal for us writers not to write ‘plain sailing’ when composing a piece about sailing – and just the fact that he was ever able to get the funding together for his trip was a mission and a half. Michael’s dad Peter summed up the reason they had such difficulty persuading sponsors to cough up when he said, “No-one wants to be associated with the death of a 16-year-old.”

And fair dos; I can see ‘their’ collective point. But in the end, enough money was indeed drummed up from various companies to fund the “dream.” As Michael explained, “It’s not just my dream – the trip – it’s mine and my dad’s.” But there was no pushy parent syndrome at work here, the two just have the same passion. That said though, I must admit, I stared at the TV like a slack-jawed yokel for a while that any parent would even begin to countenance – much less encourage – such a hugely risky ‘adventure’.

Michael’s parents are devout Christians and they spoke of their conviction that if Michael had died on the journey, then at least they’d know he was off to a better place and his after-life would be a reward in itself. Mmm. I have to say, whilst I don’t disregard or disrespect anyone’s religious beliefs, I don’t think that would’ve been much comfort to me had it been my son.

However, luckily – and despite what seemed like totally inadequate training under the circumstances – none of that was an issue and Michael did the deed. He achieved his dream and he’s had an experience that’ll get him through zillions of dinner parties for the rest of his life.

Overall, this was an entertaining film in that we knew from the outset it would have a happy ending, so the panic and worry of an anxious parent – such as myself – didn’t detract from the enjoyment of Michael’s trip, but if I have one niggle it’s that I thought the film was rather too long.

Having said that though, Michael’s achievement is one that’s not without gravitas, so perhaps it was fitting that his experiences weren’t wedged and cut into a smaller slot.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.