As the start is getting closer and closer, an Irish man by the name Gregor McGunkin is feeling the pressure. He has just 123 days left to get his boat and himself ready for arguably the biggest battle of mental endurance one can take part in — a 30,000-mile, solo nonstop race around the world, better known as the Golden Globe.
This race is estimated to take about 300 days of non-stop sailing but this year there’s a catch; it has been 50 years since the first person did what everyone thought was impossible, completing a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the world in a sailboat. This year in honor of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s, the 30 sailing competitors are challenged with the task of only using the equipment they had back in 1968. Participants are not permitted to use electronic navigation equipment; they are simply allowed paper charts, dividers, plotters, and a sextant (a device to calculate your position using the sun, moon and stars).
What a challenge! My first thought when I heard that Gregor was going to be the first Irish individual to even attempt this race was ‘Wow, what a mad man!’ Recently, I have come to realize that one must actually be quite sane to attempt such a task!
For a little context of how I fit into the mix, Gregor completed the same college course as me (‘Outdoor Adventure Management’) in Dublin. When I heard he was under a bit of pressure to get his boat fitted out and race-ready, I knew I had to get in contact to offer a hand! Gregor was extremely open to the help and very grateful as there is quite a lot to do! His boat, a lovely Biscay 36, is absolutely beautiful but in need of a lot of work.
Gregor has been working long and hard over the winter and progress has been steady but slow as the cold and dark evenings have been holding the project back slightly. Now, as the days get longer and warmer, the boat is coming along! There is a huge push to get the boat back in the water so the concentration is on all tasks to be completed prior to the boat being lifted back in. This entails building water tight compartments known as bulkheads. There must be a crash bulkhead built up in the front section so that in the unlikely event debris penetrates the hull head-on, the watertight crash bulkhead will fill with water and the rest of the boat will not. There will also be a rear bulkhead for added safety.
We have also replaced and moved some of the through-hulls and sea cocks that allow water to either be drained or taken onboard for use of the appliances such as the head, or toilet, for some of the non-sailor folk. As you can imagine, having holes in your boat sounds a bit crazy, but replacing all the fittings and valves to allow Gregor easy access to the points if need be is the safest way forward granted they are all sealed and new. This will surely give Gregor some peace of mind!
Another part of the vessel that needed some attention was the dodger. This is the protective cover over the companionway (stairs leading below deck) that stops waves crashing down below and providing some much needed shelter for Gregor as he braves the southern ocean alone. The current one (as you see in the included pictures) is made of fabric and quite flimsy. We have been working on a mold to make one out of solid fiberglass that will be painted bright orange for safety. This will give Gregor some much needed comfort and shelter in rough conditions.
As it stands, there is still a huge list of jobs — big and small — to be completed before even attempting to put her back in the water, but spirits are high! The constant work, as close to 24/7 as possible, will ensure Gregor and his beautiful boat will make it 30,000 miles solo around the world!
I know the boat is still looking very rough, especially below decks. But every day, I am at the yard at work, I spend at least two minutes sitting still, completely alone, imagining the end goal shiny and finished. The thought of being completely alone, just myself and the boat and a vast amount of ocean beneath and around me, for 9-10 months… I am absolutely mesmerized by the passion and determination of Gregor.
As I continue to help out as much as I can, I have no doubt that the support from our team and Gregor’s attitude will have him on that starting line come July 1, 2018, ready to tackle what is an absolutely amazing feat with complete force. I wish him all the best and the safest of journeys around the world — I know he will do Ireland proud!
About The Author: Mark Kennedy, SC staff member from summer ’16 to ’17 and counting, is a professionally trained instructor and tutor in many adventure activities, achieving a Higher National Diploma in Outdoor Adventure Management during his 3 years in college. This is where he trained as a powerboat, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, climbing and mountaineering instructor. He has worked in the Desolation Wilderness in Eldorado County, California, delivering leadership programs to students of all ages through the medium of true wilderness. This is where he developed his love for sharing his skills and knowledge to students, while learning how to develop their true potential.