Fastest Aussie — by less than a day - Soundings Online

Fastest Aussie — by less than a day

Publish date:

He may not have made much news outside of his native Australia, but solo circumnavigator Ken Gourlay had much more than publicity in mind when he set sail.

He may not have made much news outside of his native Australia, but solo circumnavigator Ken Gourlay had much more than publicity in mind when he set sail.

“It was just something that I really wanted to do, and once it was inside me I just had to do it,” says Gourlay in an e-mail interview shortly after returning to port in Tasmania May 5. “I cannot explain it any more than that.”

Read the other stories in this package: The Around the World Club   A voyage 25 years in the making

After 180 days at sea and 24,000 miles under the keel of his custom 41-foot sloop, the 51-year-old retail flooring store entrepreneur became the first Tasmanian and fastest Australian — by less than a day — to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world (pending ratification from the Australian Yachting Federation). A father of three and grandfather of two, he also became the oldest Aussie to accomplish the feat.

Gourlay’s eastward voyage began Nov. 6 and took him past the five great capes. On board Spirit Silver Edition he carried a GPS/chart plotter, radar, three 406 MHz EPIRBs, HF and VHF radios, an Iridium phone linked to a laptop for e-mail and voice calls, a life raft, Air Marine wind generator, and two 55-watt solar panels. He set sail with 130 gallons of water in two tanks and captured rainwater with two deck filters.

Gourlay says he averaged a total of about five hours of sleep per day and clipped on his safety harness whenever he was outside the cabin. He endured several Southern Ocean storms, a top wind speed of 74 knots, trouble with his autopilot, two shredded sails, three knockdowns, and rigging damage that threatened to bring the mast down.

“Three out of my four stays had [to be] replaced by rope or had [to have] a section of rope in them,” says Gourlay. “Some sailors at home started to push me to sail harder to stay in the race for the record. I found that when I did this I immediately stopped enjoying the trip and got very much on edge. I couldn’t handle this, so I backed off again to sail in my comfort zone.”

Gourlay says he pondered putting in at Cape Town, South Africa, for repairs but opted to push on. About halfway across the Great Australian Bight he faced three days of light winds, which he says all but killed his chance at the record. “I then had four days with four gales, and I drove the boat the hardest of the whole trip,” he says.

The mast stayed up until the end, and he was reunited with his wife, two sons and daughter. “I am a family man. I would not have gone if I didn’t really think that I was going to return,” Gourlay says, who adds that the support of his family was “an enormous comfort and invaluable toward the success of my trip.”

Gourlay says the voyage helped him raise more than $90,000 of his goal to donate $100,000 to the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust to fund research into eyesight disorders and diseases in children between the ages of 7 and 13. www.spiritsoloquest.com