What does it mean to be alone; does it necessarily mean the same as lonely? This assembly considers the determination 16 year old Michael Perham will need when he sails around the world, and also explores why it can be difficult to be alone, away from family and friends

It will be useful to show photographs from Mike’s website and there is a three minute video blog which makes a good introduction, too.

Today we’re going to be talking about two words that share many of the same letters and sound similar, but have quite different meanings. The words are ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’.

Who can tell me what it means to be ‘alone’? [Take suggestions]

Yes, the simplest answer is to say that being ‘alone’ means not being with anyone else, but by yourself.

Now, what does it mean to be ‘lonely’? [Take suggestions]

Yes, that’s a very different word, isn’t it? To be lonely means to long for the company of other people; to feel sad because you’re by yourself.

Of course, it’s possible to feel lonely when you’re surrounded by other people. Why do you think that might happen? [Take suggestions]

Yes, we can feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by people for lots of several reasons. For example, if you’re in a place where everybody speaks a different language to you, it can make you feel lonely. Of if you were the only Manchester United supporter at a Manchester City game you might feel very lonely.

Sometimes we can simply feel lonely in a crowd of people because we feel like nobody knows who we really are, or that no one understands us or the way we think.

Today’s story is about someone who has chosen to be by himself – to be alone – for 4½ long, months.

Mike Perham’s story
On the 15th November, Michael Perham set off from Cornwall to sail around the world completely by himself. That’s a very long journey – over 24,000 miles – and it will take at least four and a half months. For most of that time Mike will be completely alone (although he’ll be able to be in touch with his family by email and, occasionally, mobile phone).

Very few people have the determination or expertise to sail around the world at all, let alone by themselves. In fact, more people have walked on the moon than have sailed around the world by themselves!

What is even more remarkable is that Mike is only a few years older than some of you, because Mike is just 16 years old.

Mike started sailing when he was just seven years old. He wasn’t brought up next to the sea, but in landlocked Potters Bar in Hertfordshire. He was taught to sail by his father.

When he was just 14, he sailed from Britain to America by himself – a distance of 3,500 miles that took seven weeks. He was the youngest person to cross the Atlantic solo and now he is trying to break the world record for being the youngest person to sail around the world solo.

It’s hard, physical, dangerous work. At times Mike will be too far from land to be rescued by a helicopter if anything goes wrong. In the worst case scenario he could fall overboard and have to wait many hours – even days – before a passing ship could pick him up.

So why does he do it?

“I prepare by making sure that I’ve gone through every possible problem and tried, where possible, to get rid of it. That’s all you can do. I tell myself that I’ve prepared everything and I will get to the end.” (1)

So apart from the fact that it’s very dangerous and that Mike won’t be able to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, what’s the hardest part of his epic around the world adventure?

“The hardest thing is being away from friends and family – you struggle. It’s hard – people aren’t made to be alone for months at a time. I’m really a people person, I love having fun – that’s the hardest part for me.” (2)

Mike is currently studying for a sports qualification at college. His around the world adventure even contributes to his coursework and to his final mark. I wonder what his homework is like?

Mike will have a lot of time by himself over the next 4½ months. During that time he’ll be able to stay in touch with friends and family by email but he will be alone and out of sight of land for weeks at a time.

“There are times when there’s no time to do anything other than focus 100% on sailing.
But then there are times when I’ve got more time to relax and enjoy myself. I have two iPods full of my favourite music and a bunch of DVDs and books.” (3)

His mum calls him “completely crazy” but his dad understands what drives him (4):

“It didn’t take him long to say, ‘Dad, I’ve done the Atlantic, perhaps we could go around the world’.” (5)

PrayerDear Father,We pray today for people who are lonely. Help us to remember others as we rush through our busy lives and take the time to say ‘hello’ to someone who is lonely.



The poet Lord Byron said, “In solitude, where we are least alone”.

He meant that just because we are alone doesn’t necessary mean we are lonely. By yourself you can be completely absorbed in your own thoughts and ideas, reading a book, looking at a painting or gazing at a beautiful scene.

Many creative people enjoy having time by themselves because it gives them the opportunity to think and come up with exciting new poems, or books, or plays, or films or sculptures or paintings.

Further information
To find out more about Mike and his journey, go to www.sailmike.com. You can read his blog and children can post messages to Mike to support him on his journey.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Jane A. C. West