Gael Force owner to sail final 7,000 miles of world voyage single-handed – Fishupdate.com

Gael Force owner to sail final 7,000 miles of world voyage single-handed Published:  01 September, 2011

A marine equipment, supply and engineering businessman from the Highlands of Scotland, who has already broken his back and had to avoid pirates on a two-year round the world voyage, is to sail the final 7,000 miles of the journey from South Africa back to the UK single-handedly.

Father-of-two Stewart Graham, 47, owner of Highland-based marine equipment, supply and engineering group Gael Force, is to sail his Discovery 67 mono hull yacht the Rhiann Marie through the South Atlantic winter, hopefully avoiding the hurricane season and being battered by huge seas as he returns home.

If all goes well, Stornoway-born Stewart, who lives in Inverness, expects to make the journey in two months. But if trade winds force him from West Africa across the Atlantic to the Caribbean it will be next spring before he can return with Rhiann Marie.

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 in February on an earlier part of his trip. However he was back at the helm just one week after the accident.

He has also 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 has had to cope with 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.

Throughout his journey, Stewart has managed to oversee the successful continuing development of his business, through on board communications including e-mails and conference calls by satellite link.

“I have been determined to carry on and see this journey through. After my accident I knew I was lucky to have the power of my legs again and I determined that if the operation was successful I would stop at nothing to get back to full strength and continue my circumnavigation of the world. This is no more than the determination I would like to think we have shown while building Gael Force over the years and I knew I would let a lot of people down if I quit the circumnavigation then.”

Stewart admits 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.

“Initially my family were not happy about it, but they know that when I set myself to do something it is pretty pointless arguing. I felt I needed to do it. I asked them for their support and they have given it to me.

“I started Gael Force when I was 18 years old and running a successful business is a long, hard slog. I wanted to sail round the world some day, but I realised some day often never comes, so I decided to do this while I was in the fortunate position of being able to do it and still had the physical strength to enjoy the experience – otherwise it may never have happened.

“But I was also determined that my business would not be affected and it has taken a lot of planning to make sure that my commitments remain at the same level, wherever I am. I am in constant contact with my colleagues through e-mail and satellite phone, I receive our monthly reports and I conference call in to meetings – and on occasion that has been in the middle of the night for me while on the open ocean.

“I am under no illusions that, while the journey so far has been challenging, the hardest part awaits me. My route will take me north-west from Cape Town about 2,000 miles through the South Atlantic and their southern winter, so there may be extremely tough weather conditions to face. The other thing is that as you go further north you come to the hurricane belt in the Mid Atlantic. My aim will be to keep to the east of this area but that is very much against the prevailing trade winds which will try and push me towards Brazil and the Caribbean and right into the hurricane area.

“I know I have raised the bar in terms of the determination I will require, the risks I may have to undertake, the difficult decisions I may have and the courage I may need – but this is how I live my life and some of the values by which I run my business.

“I also know that I am in a very fortunate position and, even though it will not be plain sailing, I will make sure I remember to enjoy the experience.”

Stewart is writing a blog of his two-year journey which has attracted more than 11,300 readers so far. Visit his blog at http://blog.mailasail.com/rhiann.marie

Gael Force Group was formed in 1985 as a Hebridean-based manufacturer of fishing creels and pots and has grown to become a multifaceted marine business, serving markets throughout the UK and internationally.

Gael Force Group has grown into one of the most successful businesses based in the North of Scotland, with a wide customer base in three distinct industries – marine engineering, marine equipment, and aquaculture.