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Southern Spars

A mammoth cruising voyage completed by Scotsman

by Sail-World Cruising on 20 Nov 2011
Graham and wife, who completed part of the journey with him .. .
Every day somewhere in the world someone is preparing for, departing on, or returning from the sailing trip of a lifetime. Here we tell of a Scottish sailor who, through good seamanship and a healthy supply of determination, has just completed a mammoth voyage.

Stewart Graham of Inverness, broke his back, had his yacht struck by lightening and had to avoid areas of piracy and Al Qaeda activity on his two-year round-the-world sail. He has this week returned home safely after completing his epic voyage.

The final 6,000-mile leg of his journey was single handed, he told Sea Magazine, through the South Atlantic winter from South Africa to the Canary Islands. He had to sail away from the coast of Mauritania, where he had been heading to make some repairs after learning of threats of piracy and Al Qaeda activities in the area. He then repaired the boat at sea and experienced a gruelling 600-mile beat into five days of strong winds before finally arriving in the Canary Islands.

The west-about journey has taken Stewart from Gibraltar to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, adventuring 10,000 miles across the many remote islands and countries of the Pacific Ocean to Australia, South East Asia, across the Bay of Bengal and to Sri Lanka.

A thirteen thousand mile detour to avoid the Somalian piracy threat took him south to the Maldives, Chagos, Mauritius and Reunion Island before reaching South Africa.

Owner of Highland-based marine equipment, supply and engineering group Gael Force, Stornoway-born Stewart, 47, told Sea Magazine he had been sailing his Discovery 67 mono hull yacht the Rhiann Marie, named after his daughter, since September 2009.

Though finding friendship with people all over the world, he experienced a number of 'threatening encounters', including having the yacht approached at high speed at dawn by a boat with masked men wearing balaclavas, off Columbia. His yacht was hit by lightening in the Caribbean, which destroyed electronics including its essential autopilot system, and he had to cope with storm conditions, high seas, ripped sails and damage to his rigging, plus the constant repairs required to keep a circumnavigation on track, with a minimum amount of sleep.

In February this year, Stewart had eight nuts and bolts, two rods and a metal plate permanently fitted into his spine after an off road motorcycle accident in the jungle in Malaysia. However he was back at the helm just one week after the accident proving his determination to succeed.

Despite suffering the set backs of a broken back and finding that his return route through the Gulf of Aden was a no go zone, due to the activities of Somalian pirates who have murdered other yachts people, Stewart refused to give up, showing characteristic grit and determination in continuing through a Southern hemisphere winter.

Stewart, who took up sailing 10 years ago and now has more than 50,000 miles’ experience, said he had found the journey both physically and mentally challenging.

'It is hard to believe that my two-year adventure has come to an end. The final stage of the journey from the tip of Africa was particularly challenging, however I found the determination to push myself harder as I neared my final destination – home. Family and friends have joined me throughout various stages of the journey and acted as my crew, but sailing the Atlantic single-handed brought new greater challenges, both physically and mentally,' he said.

'The 6,000 miles is almost a third of the circumference of the globe and it was extremely challenging with winter weather conditions. I had to be a sailor, fisherman, cook, plumber, rigger, boat repairer, doctor and navigator and company director all in one. I pushed myself and the perseverance paid off as I completed my circumnavigation.'

'You have to be optimistic and have a great deal of will-power when sailing solo as there is always a new challenge to face. When my sail chafed from the halyard and dropped to the water, it was a gut busting job to recover with only one pair of hands and my injured back.'

Stewart admitted that his wife, Trish, and two adult children were against his plans to sail home solo, but knew him too well to try and change his mind.

He started Gael Force when he was 18 years old, but always has a desire to sail round the world and decided that he had to undertake the task while he was still physically strong enough to enjoy it.

But before he was able to set sail he had to ensure that he had an excellent team in place to manage and run the business. Stewart kept in regular contact with his colleagues through e-mails and satellite phone where possible – but he readily acknowledges that he could not have undertaken his voyage without the support of his management team and staff at home.

'I would like to thank everyone who has helped and enabled me to complete my journey, not least of which is my wife who sailed 30,000 miles of the journey with me and who accompanied me on the very final leg of the adventure from the Canaries to Gibraltar’ he said.

'We both now have a huge sense of achievement and feel that we need to let the reality and wondrous magnitude of our adventure over the past two years sink in.'

Stewart has written a blog of his two-year journey, which has attracted more than 24,000 readers so far, many of whom have encouraged him to produce a book of his adventures, which he is now considering.

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