Gregor McGuckin on the bow of his boat

DUBLINER Gregor McGuckin is looking to be the first Irish native to sail solo and non-stop around the world, with his challenging adventure race set to get underway in late June, amid a field of 25.
McGuckin isn’t making his life easy, either: the contest he’ll enter is a recreation of an infamous non-stop, solo race that took place in 1968. It goes so far as to use yachts dating back to the era, ban electronic navigation (the competitors will rely on a compass and the sun and moon), and even prohibit communication that wasn’t available 50 years ago.
Instead of an MP3 player and Kindle, McGuckin – and the rest of the competitors – will carry a haul of books and cassette tapes.
McGuckin’s circumnavigation is expected to take approximately 270 days, and his number one goal is to finish, though the 31-year-old hasn’t ruled out a push to win the competition. Having crossed the Atlantic on numerous occasions, as well as the Indian Ocean, his main concerns are not so much about the sailing, but about the isolation.
“We’ll have long range radios, which work sporadically, so I will be able to talk to home, though I’ll be relying on limited charge and intermittent contact,” he tells us.
“We have a GPS, but it’s for safety, and it’s kept in a box that we’re disqualified for opening. The same goes for the satellite phone, except for calling the organisers.”
“I’m confident I’ll be fine alone for the first month or six weeks but I am worried about boredom. It’ll be easier if I’m going along at a good speed, the boat is well maintained and I’m near the front. If I’m out of the race somewhere down the back, it’ll be a lot more difficult.”
Despite it being 50 years old, McGuckin’s is confident his boat, a Biscay 36 Ketch – touted as one of the most competitive models permitted in the race – is more than capable of the journey.
“It’s a good solid boat,” McGuckin explains. “They weren’t so certain of the strength of fiberglass at that time, so they actually made the hulls a lot thicker and a lot stronger to be sure they were safe.
“It has basic controls; I have modernised the control system a little bit, but it’s not like driving a vintage car. It’s definitely a boat capable of making it around, and it’s in pretty good nick right now.
“It’ll have to last under sail for almost the entire distance [around 30,000 miles] , as while I have an engine for emergencies, I’ll have very little fuel. So I hope it holds up,” he jokes. “The Southern Ocean has effectively no land mass in the way, so storms build with constant westerly winds. They’re bigger seas, and bigger challenges thousands of miles away from land. It’s cold, grey and big, and crossing the Atlantic isn’t really comparable, but I’ve been in big seas before.
“As much as that, my worries are things like that I read quickly. I might try reading in a different language or something to make it take a little bit longer, as I can’t bring too many books for weight reasons.”
McGuckin was raised in Goatstown and attended Colaiste Dhulaigh.
His passion for sailing has developed from an interest in windsurfing, and he has spent recent years teaching children to sail off the coast of County Mayo. He has over 50,000 miles of logged sailing experience, and will add a further 30,000 should he complete his trip.
While the race gets under way in June, a feature film about a competitor in the original contest, The Mercy (starring Colin Firth) is out this week, with Firth playing Donald Crowhurst.
Crowhurst was a failed amateur competitor in the original 1968 race, widely believed to have committed suicide once he realised his ill-thought-out plan to ‘win’ by hanging around in the Atlantic and return home at speed without circumnavigating the globe was likely to be discovered, and lead to his bankruptcy.
The original race was won by Robin Knox-Johnston.