The Next: Battle On The High Seas

The two young explorers check out Mike's craft. Guess which one is from where. Jen Edney

Visit the 2009 NEXT universe.

You probably heard about Frenchman Michel Desjoyeaux winning the Vendee Globe around-the-world solo sailing race. By any measure, the Vendee is a pretty gnarly ordeal, but there is another contest on the high seas that might be even more impressive: the race for the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe.

Ever since the publication of Robin Lee Graham's seminal book Dove in 1974, in which the teenage author documents his solo trip around the world in a small sloop (National Geographic featured the story), the treatise has been a rite of passage for sailors. It's even inspired a couple of ballsy teens to try the trip for their own.

One of those is 17-year-old Southern Californian Zac Sunderland who is, of this writing, sitting by himself in his 36-foot boat somewhere off the coast of Africa. He's been in the boat for the last eight months and is just over halfway through his journey. If he can make it past the high seas, boat-crushing winds and pirates (all which he's already endured) before this time next year, he will be the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the world. He's likely return to his homeport in Los Angeles by this March.

But a couple months after Zac left, on the other side of the globe, another teenager embarked on a record-breaking trip of his own. In November, 16-year-old Mike Perham left Portsmouth, England on his 50-foot racing yacht in hopes of a solo circumnavigation of his own.

At first glance, the two missions couldn't seem more different. Zac purchased his boat, the Intrepid, a small Islander, with $6,000 of his own money and then renovated it with the help of his shipwright father. The Intrepid was actually built around the time that Dove was written in 1972. Mike's boat, on the other hand, is not only newer and larger, but designed specifically for yacht racing. The Totalmoney.com is a former Open racing yacht and is outfitted by, and named after, a website that serves as one of its numerous sponsors. Mike also went through psychological training before his trip and has advantages like freeze dried meals in his hold.

Regardless of their equipment differences, the two face the same task: navigating the uknown oceans of the world all by themselves. Something like that takes confidence, patience and, above all, an enormous will to survive.

Zac and Mike rely heavily on satellite weather reports from their parents, and both have began unexpectedly receiving region-specific weather updates from communities and helpful sailors around the world. In fact, the sailing world's interest in both voyages has turned into a serious international following. Zac's website reportedly receives around 80,000 views a day.

This week, as the two headed in opposite directions of circumnavigation, they coincidentally crossed paths in South Africa, where they got to meet and check out each other's vessels.

Not bad for a couple of kids whose friends at home are probably begging their parents to borrow the car.