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Irish Solo Sailor Gregor McGuckin Returns Home to a Hero’s Welcome

15th October 2018
Irish sailor Gregor McGuckin with his father Randal McGuckin and his mother Lynne McGuckin in Dublin Airport Irish sailor Gregor McGuckin with his father Randal McGuckin and his mother Lynne McGuckin in Dublin Airport Credit: Maxwell Photo

Heroic Irish solo sailor Gregor McGuckin arrived back in Dublin today to a rapturous welcome in Dublin Airport from his family, friends and members of the sailing community.

It is Gregor’s first time on Irish soil since embarking on his attempt to be the first Irishman to sail around the world solo non-stop. He was competing in the Golden Globe Race, which is known as the ‘Mount Everest of sailing races’.

During this morning's Press Conference at Dublin Airport, the solo sailor described the circumstances leading up to his evacuation:

"We heard about the storm coming a day or two beforehand but every update was different so it was quite hard to plan for.

I headed north and we were in the worst possible place to be in at the worst possible time. I was right in the convergence zone were cold and warm water meets and everything passing through gets condensed.

By 6pm the wind was gale force and at midnight the boat got knocked down for the first time. I was quite surprised to lose mizen mast because the storm didn’t seem that bad. It was far from meaning the end of the race though and I went into survival mode - the worry was the bow of the boat would pitchpole so I set out trailing lines.

The biggest problem was to keep her downwind. It was quite challenging by steering by hand in those conditions and I did feel quite exposed. The waves were over 10 metres, some 15, and the sea was just white. It was amazing looking it - I was pinned by the wind, I could barely move arms.

I eventually got the self-steering set up and went below deck. I was checking the sea state and saw this big wave coming - I stuck my head out and it just broke on the starboard quarter. The swell was coming from a northerly direction and the south, its was really messy and created this huge mountain which threw me sideways. The boat is 10ton and being thrown up like that takes a phenomenal force.

I could see orange sail by the side so cut it away as soon as possible with a bolt cutter and hacksaw. It destroyed my hands. I just got below again when we got knocked over again.

The storm lasted six hours. I knew my race was over so wedged myself in a safe place. I was pretty depressed and was going to sleep it through, but then I heard about Abhilash being disabled from race control.

I put together jury rig and made a course for him. Then the wind dropped which was really frustrating. I had to wait until another gale came along before I could start making 5-6 knots. I was getting very mixed information all this time, I knew an Australian warship and French fisheries vessel were on their way but I thought I might be the first on scene - I was praying I wouldn’t be.

Then I heard that they had evacuated him, and I requested evacuation too. I had limited means to sail and the worry was that if I tried to make shore potentially I’d have to call another rescue mission, which would be a bit reckless. We were brought to Amsterdam Island, where a research team looked after us. I’ve been chatting to Abhilash since - he fractured vertebrae and has had surgery.

The people suffering most were people at home - they didn’t know what was going on, whereas as we were in the middle of it. It was quite a harrowing time for my girlfriend and family.

I’ll have to get back on my feet before consider going back".

Gregor captured the world’s attention when his yacht, the Hanley Energy Endurance, was rolled over twice and dismasted during an enormous storm in the treacherous seas of the South Indian Ocean. His fellow competitor in the race, an Indian naval commander named Abhilash Tomy, who was also capsized and dismasted in the storm, suffered a very serious back injury and was unable to move or steer his yacht.

Gregor McGuckin boatGregor McGuckin under full sail on board his ill–fated Golden Globe Race boat prior to her dismasting

In a truly remarkable feat of seamanship and heroism which inspired and amazed the sailing world, Gregor ‘jury-rigged’ a small mast and sail on his yacht and battled the storm for a brutal four days and nights to get close to Tomy and attempt a rescue.

A French fisheries patrol vessel, the FPV Osiris managed to get to Tomy before McGuckin did. The vessel then sailed to evacuate Gregor from his yacht to prevent the need for a second rescue mission. McGuckin and Tomy were treated at the medical centre on Ile Amsterdam (Amsterdam Island) in the southern Indian Ocean. The Australian naval vessel HMAS Ballarat collected McGuckin to take him to Perth in Western Australia.

At a press conference in Dublin Airport hosted by Gregor and his headline sponsor Hanley Energy, Gregor gave a flavour of the hardships he endured; ‘’when I heard that Abhilash was in serious trouble I knew immediately that I had to do what I could. With the jury-rig on the Hanley Energy Endurance, I was only able to hand steer, which meant I had to be on deck in order to make any progress towards Abhilash. The weather conditions at this point were still appalling.’’

Gregor was warmly welcomed by his sponsor, Hanley Energy. Speaking at the press conference today, Hanley Energy Managing Director Dennis Nordon said; ‘’we are absolutely thrilled to have Gregor home safely. All of us here are indescribably proud of his bravery in unimaginably tough circumstances, and we are looking forward to continuing to support his endeavours.’’

Gregor has spent the past two weeks recovering in Perth in Australia where he was brought by the Australian Navy following medical treatment on Amsterdam Island in the Indian Ocean.

Published in Solo Sailing Team

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