The yacht that wouldn’t give up!

The Golden Globe Race 2018

Gregor McGuckin S/Y Hanley Energy Endurance
Gregor and John onboard Enigma
Gregor helming with John. Leaving Carrickfergus.

Forward by John Murphy

CAI member and owner of Enigma, Bavaria 34

Sometime in 2017 I heard about Gregor McGuckin and his plan to take part in the 2018 Golden Globe Race. Paul Cunningham of Marine Electrics in Dun Laoghaire had called me and asked could I help.

Paul Cunningham had agreed to be an early supporter and had set about designing a new way to make sure that no matter what happened on the Round the World Race, the wiring and power systems on Gregor’s boat would be up to the challenge.

He also asked me if I could help with the radio-communications side of the fit-out, as I had an SSB/HF long-range radio licence and knew something about marine communications. As a long term cruising sailor and member of the Cruising Association of Ireland this race was of real interest.
I called Gregor and offered to help!

I quickly discovered that the most pressing task at this point was fund-raising and if we were ever to get the boat ready this was the first priority; the right equipment would follow. I secured funds from my company to put two ‘Watt & Sea’ generators on board and contribute to the new sails. Things were looking up. 

While still in Malahide Shipyard, my wife Áine and I went out to visit the boat in fit-out at which time we met Paul Comiskey. Paul and I had studied as Radio Officers in the 1970’s and we hit it off straight away with a common purpose to make sure Gregor had the best technical installation in the fleet! 

Paul became one of the great unsung heroes of project putting in so many hours and so much expertise to make sure all was right. There are many stories of the solutions Paul devised that set the standard.

The remaining two active supporters joined the team soon after that. John Leahy, a long-time member of the CAI,  former Commodore and Yachtmaster Instructor “Ocean”,  joined in and was able to muster the support of the Committee. The CAI then became fully involved with the campaign, including a donation to the fund, and culminating in the farewell National Y. C. send-off day in July 2018.

Around the same time, I was at a rugby match in the National Yacht Club and met a gentleman who had every appearance of being a seasoned sailor, with a nautical beard to match.  I immediately launched into a verbal broadside in support of  Gregor’s project and fortunately for Gregor,  Russell Best, for that was his name,  volunteered. He is a former Royal Naval Commodore and played a crucial role during the rescue.

His great support in the preparation, the logistics, the navigation strategy and many other things too numerous to mention were invaluable. Russell’s expertise, experience and global network played such a key part in getting Gregor home.  There is quite a story in this chapter alone.  For example, in the days after the capsize,  Gregor’s own Irish team, housed for days in the library of the Royal Irish Y.C. (by kind permission)  had better connections and results than the official  GGR race office! Russell was able to network and arrange for the Australian Navy’s resources to be deployed.  

So from the day that the big CAI send-off at the NYC when Gregor set off bound, for Falmouth, to the pre-race presentation in France to the Skippers of the fleet by Robin K-J (and the email from President Michael D) and the parade of sail which Russell and I joined,  to the final welcome home by the CAI at Dublin Airport, it has been a three-year roller coaster. Here is the story. 
John Murphy CAI

The yacht that wouldn't give up.......

The Story 

The 2018 Golden Globe Race was the ‘Round-the-World’ sailing race which celebrated and faithfully replicated the 50th anniversary of the original 1968 Golden Globe Race. It featured yachts designed like those used at that time. Except for safety equipment, no modern technology was allowed. None of the modern facilities that we regard now as essential like auto-pilots, water-makers, GPS, Sat Phones and generators. Only safety-related equipment like EPIRBs were permitted and then only in a real emergency. Communication was only allowed by HF MF SSB transmitters which are very hit and miss and require expert management to get even half reliable results. 
So entrants were limited to sail in similar yachts and equipment that were available to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner of the original race. 

The boat design was very specific. Boats had to be ……

  • Of fibre reinforced plastic construction.
  • Designed before 1988 and have a minimum series of 20 yachts built from one mould.
  • Have a hull length of between 32 to 36 feet
  • Have full-length keels with rudders attached to the trailing edge.
  • A minimum design displacement of 6,200 kilograms 

Most of the boats entered were typical 1970’s British designs that at the time were extremely rugged ocean-going small yachts, such as the Biscay 36, Rustlers, Rivals, Nicholson and Tradewinds. Boats with a build quality that has stood the test of time. Even so getting the Biscay 36 up to specification took many months and a great deal of expenditure, which left Gregor as the race approached short of money, time and resources. The fit-out took place mainly during the winter of 2017/18 in Malahide Marina County Dublin and with the help of many people, but especially Paul Comiskey. The boat was pretty much in brand new condition by the time they had finished. A case of what you find when you buy an old boat and start digging!

The CAI involvement started when we heard that a young man was about to depart from Dun Laoghaire for France to undertake this massive task and was doing a  final fitting-out at the National Y.C., Dun Laoghaire.  Our Secretary and former Commodore, John Leahy had sailed with Robin Knox Johnston around the time of his 1986 Round Ireland Record catamaran attempt, in which Sir Robin succeeded, rounding Ireland in under 4 days, beating Moonduster’s previous record.  

Perhaps because of this connection, John took immediate interest and in short order the committee, on behalf of the members, contributed a modest but meaningful sum to support the project which was clearly in need of a bit of help. From then onward we have supported Gregor and his voyage and even up to last month were still actively helping out as you will now read. 

And so it was that Irish solo sailor, Gregor McGuckin, supported by family, friends and a small team of Irish cruising and racing sailors plus a handful of local sponsors, set sail from Dun Laoghaire in June 2018, to Plymouth and then France for the start of the race on 1st July 2018 at Les Sables-d’ Olonne.   His Biscay 36, christened Hanley Energy Endurance, for the largest sponsor, was one of the best-prepared boats in the race; something we would discover later in a surprising way.

The principal sponsors were...

The story is very familiar to the Irish sailing community, with the help of Afloat Magazine, the Cruising Association of Ireland and the broadcasting media. It became quite the story of endurance and seamanship as large numbers of supporters and our members tracked Gregor, the only Irish entrant in this race every day online via the ‘GGR’ (Golden Globe Race) web site and a ‘Yellow Brick’ tracking APP.
Gregor was following in the wake of famous Irish sailors like Conor O’Brien who, at the start of the Irish state, was first to fly the new Irish tricolour in many ports around the globe (there was even an early edition of Conor O’Brien’s book Across Four Oceans onboard). Gregor, however, was going non-stop with only a limited number of rendezvous locations at sea during the voyage, and he was only able to contact a support boat to hand over media items such as photographs but receive no assistance. The rules were strictly enforced and some entrants were disqualified for receiving assistance. 

By September and well up in the fleet, well south of Sri Lanka, Gregor was lying sixth out of the original 18 entrants and was gaining all the time. Then on the 82nd day at sea at 11:00 UTC on 22 September 2018 during an extreme storm, Gregor called the Race Hotline (GGR)  on his emergency satellite phone to report “I’ve got rolled the mainmast is gone”. Second message….  “Rolled and dismasted. Cut mast away…no hull damage…no water below…safety gear and sat comms secure…hatches and ports secure… towing warps.”
He had earlier been ‘knocked down’ meaning the boat was knocked on its side beyond 90 degrees and, in the process, had broken the Mizzen mast, the smaller of the two mast – that was bad enough. Now he had been rolled completely, he thinks twice, and all masts were gone. Seeing a massive wave approaching, he had just managed to dive below decks and close his special waterproof hatch when the boat was tossed through 360 degrees.  Gregor was now sailing downwind under bare poles with warps trailing off the stern (the traditional storm survival mechanism as old as time) meaning he had no sails up and was trailing ropes to keep the boat’s stern into the massive swell and breaking waves and preventing a fatal broach and further inversion. 

When asked at the time to describe the terrifying incident Gregor said, “The sea is just savage. I was going down a swell and a monster (wave) came in from the other side, there was nothing I could have done. I was lying on the roof, but it came back up. I’m a bit bruised but ok. He estimated that gusts must have been 70 knots. But it was the sea state that was beyond anything he had imagined – chaotic and steep from various directions. 

 

Gregor McGuckin was, by that time, the second competitor in the Golden Globe Race to be rolled over. Many others had been forced to retire due to gear failure and personal reasons.
Undeterred he set-up a jury rig and got the boat underway again, his main motivation being to rescue fellow competitor Abhilash Tomy, who had also been rolled and dismasted in the same storm, and who now had a suspected broken back.  Gregor was trying to work out how, with his badly disabled vessel, he could rescue a man with a broken back over 100 nm away in huge seas, but that did not deter him from trying. 

 

As it unfolded, after a complex rescue operation involving multi-national co-operation, Tomy was taken off by a ship, as was Gregor, and then both yachtsmen were taken to Amsterdam Island, a French Indian Ocean territory in the Southern Ocean.  Gregor’s boat was secured but left to float as, on advice from the French authorities, scuttling (sinking her deliberately) was not possible as she was carrying a quantity of diesel oil and to do so would have infringed stringent maritime pollution laws for this sensitive environmental region.
The rescue operation itself was noteworthy because of the sheer scale of it and the careful, multi-national coordination that took place to find, fix positions and assist two tiny (in comparative terms) contacts in the vastness of the Southern Indian Ocean.  It was the equivalent of placing a six-inch nail, half-buried, somewhere on the pitch at the Aviva Stadium and hoping to find it. State of the art assets were deployed by the Royal Australian Air Force and Navy.  These included a Boeing P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and an Anzac Class frigate, HMAS Ballarat, equipped with the latest radar, sonar and a helicopter.  The Indian Navy also deployed a P8, a frigate and a tanker to the area. These assets were vital in locating small contacts in the most challenging conditions on the planet and it should be of some solace to yachtsmen and other mariners that they are made available so readily when life is in the balance at sea. In the end, though, it was, perhaps the less glamorous French fisheries research vessel, Osiris that, having been vectored on by the naval assets, boarded and effected the rescue of both Gregor and Abilash Tomi and gave them passage to Amsterdam Island.  
Throughout the operation, Gregor’s back-up team were able to keep hour by hour contact with the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Canberra and directly with some of the assets, thanks to some personal connections in the Royal Australian Navy, and excellent co-operation from Irish diplomatic channels.  Above all, however, it was Gregor’s professionalism, determination and resolve in the face of a crisis that led to a successful outcome and something which, it must be said, sets him and the rest of that small community of lone yachtsmen apart from the rest of us mere mortals. During this period the CAI committee was involved in daily briefings, some in person at the RIYC, helping to see what could be done, and using our knowledge of small boat sea-survival conditions in such a situation. Not that any of us had endured anything like this, but many of us are familiar with small yachts in big winds and it all helped. 
Fast forward to February 2020, Gregor McGuckin won the top Cruising Club of America Award for Ocean Rescue of a competitor. Their statement read:- “The Rod Stephens Seamanship trophy was presented to Gregor McGuckin, for his attempted rescue of a fellow competitor, Abhilash Tomy.” Ninety miles apart, McGuckin and Tomy were both dismasted in the same hurricane-force storm in the Southern Ocean, and Tomy was seriously injured. McGuckin jury-rigged his boat and sailed to within 25 miles of Tomy to help. Although a French fisheries vessel, FPV Osiris, was able to reach Tomy first, McGuckin’s seamanship and courage were of the highest order.

At this point the story seemed to end since Gregor was rescued, ending up in Fremantle, and eventually making his way home to a great welcome at the VIP lounge at Dublin Airport.  We were there to meet him among a great crowd including his family of course and his girlfriend Barbara.  Abhilash Tomy of India was also safely returned home, albeit with serious back problems. Hanley Energy was left drifting in the Indian Ocean and seemed to be headed very slowly towards Australia so a team, again supported by the CAI started seeing if a rescue attempt could be made to salvage her. In the end, the extreme range, the huge cost and the rough sea conditions precluded this attempt. 
Eventually, with no hope of salvage, Gregor decided to switch off the tracker since it seemed that nothing could be done.  So it now seemed as if Gregor’s dream was well and truly over since any hope of salvaging her and getting her back to Ireland at all, never mind a second attempt for the 2022 GG race were dashed. 

Then, early this year, nearly two years after the event, Gregor’s Biscay 36 appears in the ocean, 388 miles from La Reunion Island. A visual sighting from a local fishing boat, helped by the still-functioning AIS transmitter (line of sight range)  was made and a photograph taken, and apart from some scars on her paintwork and “looking a bit scruffy” she was in excellent condition, floating high on her marks and still with the jury rig in place. She is now a thousand miles NW of her original position having been partly blown and partly carried on the currents to that location by the ocean gyre.

Still transmitting her position on AIS and floating happily, the solar panels, electrics and batteries installed in Ireland were still functioning after nearly two years abandoned at sea. A testimony to the technology fit-out which all took place in Dun Laoghaire by a local provider.   Visually, she appears to be no more the worse for wear than when she was left to her own devices.  Moreover, the boat contains a precious cargo – a barrel of Glendalough Whiskey, (one of the sponsors of the original trip), which has now benefited from additional “maturing” in the rugged climate of one of the world’s most challenging regions. And she was now finally within reach! This was a prize in itself if it could be recovered. 

 

Will we be able to salvage her? 

When told the news Gregor said “I am delighted to see her looking so good after all we went through together. The boat clearly has “spirit” in more senses than one! 
 The photograph above was taken mid-April this year near La Reunion and south of Mauritius, about 350 nm from the island. Local Tuna fishing boats showed a lot of interest and we know she was boarded at least once from a fishing boat. What those fishermen did is not known, but since then the AIS signal has mysteriously ceased transmitting. We also have evidence that the whiskey barrel has joined the “angel’s share” and disappeared!  Seemingly Irish whiskey is much in demand way down there.

After the sighting, the CAI became involved again as a small salvage committee consisting of Gregor, two CAI members, our Commodore, and Russel Best of the Royal Navy was set up. We were now in Covid territory which made everything very difficult and we worked on Zoom almost daily for about ten days negotiating with local resources on La Reunion,  where we eventually found a certain fisherman who we shall call  “Rene”,  who had the sort of deep-sea boat with a big enough engine and lifting gear to recover a Biscay 36. Rene joined the Zoom meetings and there was a touch of the “Pirates of Penzance” feeling about it all with our limited French and his strongly accented Franglais!. But a deal was struck in principle to salvage her – it just needed funding now, which became the next task. And then, because of the time taken between the first sighting, the then loss of her AIS and no further sightings over three weeks, we realised that she had again disappeared into the wide blue ocean once again, perhaps for the last time.

Whether she has been scuttled by the locals because she was a hazard, or simply just sailed on as before like the Marie Celeste before her, we don’t know.   Given the lack of shipping in that area and the end of the Tuna season, it is likely she may never be seen again. But something tells me that the Biscay 36 is still out there, a boat built not for speed, but for the open ocean way back in the sixties when they knew how to build boats like that. 
Meantime, Gregor is working again in Ireland in the marine industry that he loves, and we cannot help feeling that this may not be the last time that CAI members might be assisting with some other remarkably brave voyage by this Irishman who follows in the great tradition of ocean sailors who, equipped only with a sextant and a fine vessel, like Slocum, Knox Johnston, and Moitessier, have taken on the great oceans to sail around the world single-handed non-stop. 

Acknowledgements
The project received so much help that it would not be possible to thank everyone here. However, a special mention, apart from our sponsors above, is in order for certain persons.
Russell Best, a retired Royal Navy Commodore gave invaluable assistance over many weeks in co-ordinating the SAR aspects of the recovery of Gregor from the deep ocean, and more recently in trying to recover the vessel when she turned up again off La Reunion. Paul Comiskey, Boat Builder and craftsman worked throughout 2017/2018 on preparing the Biscay 36 for the extreme conditions she would face. Paul Cunningham of Marine Electrics,  Dun Laoghaire gave freely of time and financial support during the electronic fit-out. It was still working 8 weeks ago! At the CAI, John Murphy of the good ship Enigma has been backing the project from the outset and he involved John Leahy our Hon. Sec. and former Commodore and the committee to get behind the project.  
Gregor Mc Guckin June 2020

APPENDICES
https://www.nyc.ie/1986/06/the-round-ireland-record-british-airways/
https://goldengloberace.com/two-golden-globe-race-sailors-honoured-by-the-cruising-club-of-america/

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