Meet the Sailor of the Year who is 82 – and first cast off only 10 years ago – iNews

Meet the Sailor of the Year who is 82 – and first cast off only 10 years ago – iNews

Many people might start to slow down and take stock of their lives when they reach their seventies. But his eighth decade was only the beginning of an exhilarating new chapter for Murdoch McGregor. Following a “hankering”, the young-at-heart Scot decided to take up sailing at the age of 72.
Now, after 10 years at sea and an incredible solo voyage that made him the oldest person to circumnavigate Britain, he has been named Sailor of the Year.
At the ceremony at the British Yachting Awards in December, the fearless 82 year-old beat major names in the sport, including the British Sailing Team.
“I’m a big dreamer and, turning 72, I was thinking about becoming a sailor and the dream got me out there,” says Mr McGregor.
“I always had a hankering for sailing, but it looked terribly complicated.”
His only previous boating experience came i.n his teenage years, when he would go fishing for salmon on the River Forth near his hometown of Alloa. But that didn’t stop him from buying an “uncomplicated” Hurley 22 boat for £2,000 without ever having sailed before.
“I could have gone to the local sailing club and people would have taken me out to see if sailing was for me. But I bought the boat not knowing if I’d be able to make it move, let alone handle the high seas,” he says. But he accepted an offer of some free tuition and found his sea legs immediately. “I knew right away I could sail,” he says.
Mr McGregor, who took up marathon running aged 44, joined Forth Cruising Club. In his first year of sailing, he embarked on a 70-mile voyage around the northern coast of Scotland, which then turned into a circular route of 450 miles.
“When I’m sailing I’m totally immersed, and I just kept going,” he says. “The sailing club members were following my daily Facebook bulletins to see where I landed next. They called me Forrest Gump.”
The following year he bought a bigger 23ft boat he called Artemis, “an upgrade to go where I wanted to go”, and sailed to the North Atlantic island of St Kilda.
Mr McGregor has since embarked on annual voyages to Orkney and Shetland, down to London and along the Thames under London Bridge, and even navigated his way from Scotland into the heart of Berlin – a “lovely experience” that took him 14 weeks.
When a sailing trip to Norway was cancelled twice due to Covid, Mr McGregor decided to loop around the UK instead, casting off from Alloa on 5 June 2021. He sailed for 12 hours a day, surviving on tinned stews and soups. “I lived on the boat like a camper,” he says.
“I had a stove to heat food and I never went hungry. I slept overnight in harbours. I loved to get out early; depending on the tides, I’d start off by 5am.”
Faced with a “very British summer”, he encountered plenty of rain and strong winds. “The wind always picks up when you least expect it, but I’m never afraid,” he says.
“I do realise I’ve got a job on my hands as I’m getting bounced about. But I settle into it and the exhilaration takes over. Honestly, I don’t really experience fear. My boat is my best friend. All I do is point her in the right direction and she takes me there safely.”
Mr McGregor, who served in the British Army for three years from the age of 18, revelled in the calming benefits of the ocean.
“It’s not just a body of water for me, I just marvel at its majesty and enjoy its serenity.” He often sailed past dolphins, whales and seals. “They became my sea brothers and sisters,” he says. “Out there on my own I’d often speak to them. Sometimes I’d even burst into song.”
A “major highlight” along the way was meeting 14-year-old sailor Katie McCabe, who became the youngest person to circumnavigate Britain singlehandedly and set sail at the same time as Mr McGregor in the opposite direction. She won Young Sailor of the Year 2021.
“I was sailing along and she called me out of the blue and said, ‘You’re inspiring me and I think we should meet,’ so we did,” he says.
“She’s the youngest person to sail around the UK and I’m the oldest. We did it at the same time so now we are almost knitted together.
McGregor’s UK voyage took him 10 weeks to complete, including two weeks of bad weather, and he raised £10,505 for Mental Health UK. It’s a cause close to his heart: his younger brother, Jim, struggled with mental health problems throughout his adult life until he died three years ago, at the age of 75.
“Jim got on with life as best he could, which was very difficult at times,” he says. “Back in the day it was a cruel place for anyone with mental health problems. Nowadays, the support and awareness is so much better.”
The pensioner has received much support on Facebook. “People followed my route and would occasionally come and meet me. Some people called me an inspiration and said I’d encouraged them to go for a walk, get the bike out of the shed and get active again.”
This year, Mr McGregor hopes to sail to Norway in May. “I just feel so privileged to be out on the sea and I am so grateful for my health. I still don’t take a single pill or have one pain in my body. And for that I’m just full of gratitude every morning.”
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.

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