01/22/2007 at 01:00 AM EST
Michael Perham may have a bit of trouble buckling down to his schoolwork these days, but he's got a pretty good excuse: On Jan. 3 the British 14-year-old became the youngest sailor to cross the Atlantic solo. Six and a half weeks after casting off from Gibraltar, Perham steered his 28-ft. yacht, the Cheeky Monkey—his family nickname—into Antigua's English Harbour, where he was welcomed by a steel band and a flotilla of horn-tooting sailboats. Following behind, as he had throughout the adventure, was father Peter, 47, in a similar 28-footer. "It feels absolutely fantastic being back on dry land," Michael, who has been sailing since the age of 7, told the BBC.
During his 4,700-mile voyage the teen battled gale-force winds, 25-ft. waves and had "my first experience of squalls; they really do knock your teeth out," he wrote on Nov. 25 in a diary blog of the voyage. He also collided with something large, possibly a whale, which left a jagged gash in the bow of the boat. "It was dark and then it was gone," he said. On Dec. 15 came the most harrowing moment of the trip, when he had to jump into deep waters to free the boat's rudder from a rope that had ensnared it. (Although his father, an experienced sailor, was following about a mile behind, he was prohibited from helping in any way except in case of emergency.)
Back home in Potters Bar, about 15 miles north of London, Michael's mother, Heather, 50, says that yes, she was worried about her son. "He's made it look incredibly easy," she told Britain's News of the World. "But it wasn't."