Sport on TV: Sinking feeling means Perham can’t let it all wash over him

Author: By Andrew Tong

There would be trials and tribulations aplenty, as you would expect from a teenager even if he was just trying to do a three-point turn. It must have been disconcerting to attempt to sail 34,000 miles in a boat that’s almost as old as you are, especially when you’re not even old enough to take your driving test. Nor had he sailed in it alone before, so rapidly did he have to start his mission to ensure that he would be the youngest to complete it.

The Cutting Edge production devoted 100 minutes to The Boy Who Sailed The World (Channel 4, Wednesday), and by the end it felt like you had been round a couple of times yourself. But while Perham’s achievement was remarkable, it did leave you with an uneasy feeling ? and not just because of the way you were being tossed around on the sofa.

There was plenty of Ellen MacArthur-style emoting into the cabin-cam, but at other times there was definitely a cameraman on board. No doubt these were so-called “reconstructions”, but there was nothing to indicate the difference between genuine footage and dramatisation except for the fact that in the latter case he wasn’t generally weeping helplessly.

He had a rough time, as you would expect when your autopilot breaks three times, so that you can’t even grab your 20-minute intervals of sleep, then your rudder breaks, then the mast… Then his father, Peter, was laid off and ran out of money for a new mast. Then his girlfriend, Becky, dumped him when he was all alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. “But he had to understand what it was like for me,” she whined. By this stage Mike was having pretend conversations with the clouds.

Perhaps the most disturbing figure in the whole saga was the father ? “He’s my best friend,” said Mike. Peter’s own father had not allowed him to attempt the feat. So here was “competitive dad”, impervious to the notion of holding a funeral without a body, trying to persuade potential sponsors that their concerns about having the death of a minor on their hands was an acceptable dilemma to mull over during their lunchbreak.

As he limped home over the Atlantic, Mike said: “I really, really can’t wait for my hug with Dad”, with maybe a hint of Stockholm Syndrome. Then Becky showed up at the finish and he revealed: “That’s the hug I really wanted.” What a relief. But it must have been tempting to just cut her adrift.

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