Scot becomes first deaf man to sail around world

A SCOTTISH teacher has became the first deaf sailor to sail around the world single-handedly.

Gerry Hughes opens a bottle of Champagne with his wife Kathleen. Picture: PA

Gerry Hughes, whose teenage dream was to complete the solo voyage, received an enthusiastic welcome from his family when he arrived in Troon yesterday after a challenging eight months at sea.

The 55-year-old father of two from Glasgow covered 32,000 miles, sailing past all five capes in the southern hemisphere, after setting off from the Ayrshire town on 1 September last year.

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Yesterday, as he was re-united with his wife Kay 47, and daughters Nicola, 23, and Ashley, 20, Mr Hughes said: “The last eight months have been amongst the toughest of my life but despite all the challenges of the expedition, it has been a period I have thoroughly enjoyed.”

Picture: PA

He continued: “It has been a lifelong ambition to sail around the world, so it is difficult at the moment to comprehend what I have finally achieved. Sailing has always been my first love and it provided a real escape from my deafness when I was a youngster.

“Now, I hope that following and completing my dream can encourage young people who face similar difficulties to see that their hopes and aspirations can still be fulfilled through belief and hard work.”

His remarkable achievement puts him alongside legendary yachtsmen Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Francis Chichester in the record books.

Sir Robin, the first man to achieve a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe, was one of the first to send congratulations.

He said: “Reading Gerry’s blog brings back some cold, wet and uncomfortable memories. It is such a relief when you clear Cape Horn and turn north. I shall look forward to adding Gerry to the list of solo circumnavigators south of the great capes.”

He added: “The easy things are not worth doing. Where is the satisfaction from achievement? It is the difficult things we take on that bring us pride.”

During his arduous voyage on his 42ft yacht Quest III, Mr Hughes faced some of toughest sailing conditions the world’s oceans could throw at him.

His boat capsized south of the Cape of Good Hope shortly before Christmas, when massive waves struck his vessel from an unexpected direction. He also suffered problems with electronic equipment.

Mr Hughes said support from his family and people across the globe had played a “huge part” in helping him to complete the voyage. He said: “I spent years planning and fundraising for the voyage, which in many ways was far more testing than the sail itself. However, that added to the emotion when I returned to the harbour, and being embraced by friends who have helped me so much is a moment I will cherish forever.”

Mr Hughes, a former assistant head of Donaldson’s School for the Deaf in Edinburgh, now teaches deaf pupils at St Roch’s Secondary School in Glasgow. He was born profoundly deaf and was introduced to sailing by his father at the age of two. Eight years ago, he became the first deaf skipper to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, in the Original Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, OSTAR, 2005.

Neil Lennon, the Parkhead manager, was among those who praised the achievement of the Celtic fan. He told the yachtsman: “You are a true role model and an inspiration to many.”

Skipper’s log: I crossed Equator and threw a dram over the side to keep Neptune happy

• 1 September, 2012: It’s been a hell of a day!

We’ve faced a tough sail through strong, fresh, facing winds, which meant we had to keep tacking port and starboard all the time. Right now, my dream is just to get out of the Firth of Clyde and pass the Mull of Kintyre – something which seems impossible, with such strong winds and heavy seas against us.

• 10 September: The last couple of nights have been most uncomfortable sailing through the Bay of Biscay, with enormous waves breaking over Quest III. Sitting down below I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster, bracing myself against the roll in my soaking oilskins.

• 7 October: I have finally reached the Equator. At last! I baptised myself by pouring seawater over my head to keep me strong and poured a wee malt whisky and threw it out for Neptune, to keep him happy!

It was a very emotional moment. I kept looking at the sky with tears in my eyes.

• 22 November: Passed Cape Point heading south, on a lovely calm sea. I made the most of it and am now standing by for the coming of gales.

• 28 December: Today is the first day that I have felt able to write an account of what happened to Quest III and I, after the worst nightmare I have ever come across.

Quest III was pushed hard by the strongest high waves, rolling from one side to the other, with no signs of improvement, from 6 to 12 December. I began to feel that we were in real danger and there was no escape.

The reason for this was that a few days after the 180 degree capsizing, I was horrified to find that my spare laptop had broken as a result of it. The Chartplotting failed as Quest III was hit by more huge waves from a different direction.

Quest III and I were hopelessly out of control; none of the things inside or the electronics could have survived these conditions; I was deeply saddened and angry about that. The sea was black, with white-horse waves which travelled at tremendous speed. I thought the hull would be broken in half.

• 7 April, 2013: We passed the Equator at 0800 GMT. Looking astern, I said my goodbyes to the Southern Oceans – the South Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

What an incredible experience I have been through.

• 11 April: I have not seen blue skies for ages – the sky is always grey and miserable and white-horse waves crash constantly over the bow. Since I passed the Equator, my sleep patterns have been irregular and my body clock is all confused. I feel worn out and lacking in energy, losing focus.

• 6 May: I can’t believe that I am nearly at Ireland and the wind has started to drop!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will see me through to the end now! I currently have about 230 miles left for Troon.