Gavin Millar completes 1000 nautical miles of his sailing canoe circumnavigation – but runs out of time

Gavin Millar leaves the Isle of May

‘Canoesailor’ Gavin Millar called a temporary halt to his sailing canoe circumnavigation of Great Britain last week.

After two and a half months of sailing his sabbatical was coming to an end, but he still reached Oban (he started from the Solent) and managed to clock up 1000 nautical miles in his Solway Dory sailing canoe. This seems to me to be a great achievement especially during this summer. He plans to return to the job next year, so let’s hope the weather is kinder next summer than it has been this year.

In his weblog Gavin reports that he would have liked to have sailed and paddled further, but given the conditions this summer he was happy to have made it to the West Coast of Scotland.

These two paragraphs seem to me to be particularly telling:

‘The physical and mental strains of sailing a very small boat alone on the North Sea in strong winds and large waves meant that there were times when I was close to giving up, and I confess there were times when I was very scared, but I’m glad I persisted with the voyage. I would not like to have missed many of the experiences of the last two and a half months.

‘I’ve seen much of Britain’s amazing coastline from a special “upclose” perspective usually only experienced by sea kayakers and a few intrepid dinghy sailors. I have many great memories, not the least of which are of the people I’ve met along the way and of the huge amount of support and generosity I’ve benefited from. So, huge thanks to all those who’ve been so kind and helpful.’

Characteristically modest, Gavin also says he hopes he will inspire someone with more time and courage to sail all the way round, adding that he feels he has made a passable attempt at following in the tradition of the Canoe Boys and John McGregor.

Well yes – of course he has!

I gather Gavin’s site will have more photos and more weblog entries from his voyage over time, and don’t forget that one of his aims in making the voyage is to raise funds for the hospitality industry benevolent organisation Hospitality Action. The Canoesailor website includes a link for making donations, and Gavin’s employers have kindly pledged to match every pound donated with a pound of their own to a maximum of £10,000.

Tony Bibbington sails and paddles Macgregor’s route in a Rob Roy canoe

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Rob Roy canoe gear – click on the drawing for a larger image

I’ve just learned that Mersey Canoe Club member Tony Bibbington last year sailed and paddled from Oslo to the Baltic, following Victorian pioneer John MacGregor’s paddle-strokes all the way. My thanks to Brian Smith for letting me know about this, and for pointing out that there are some great photos online at – click on the 2009 calendar and then on Nov 4, and you will find photos of his trip round Heligoland.

It was a 500km trip that he had to complete in three weeks due to the that old enemy work, but perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of the whole thing is that Tony was  determined to follow exactly the same route as his hero and did so using a 138-year old original Rob Roy canoe made by Sewells of London that he restored himself.

This insistence on following Macgregor’s route caused a few problems along the way – the first  of which was that the spot from with Macgregor first launched his canoe in Norway is now someone’s back garden. Thankfully, the owner proved friendly and Tony was on his way.

An article in the magazine Canoe Focus tells the story of a varied journey, sometimes tedious, sometimes  beautiful, and with plenty of incidents worth retelling, with Tony dressing as a Victorian gentleman canoeist and meeting an artist determined to paint his portrait; moments where, like Macgregor before him, Tony had to drag his canoe out of a stream water and use a car or other means to reach the next patch of water; and a final landing in which he landed inside the perimeter of a factory security fence. Luckily, on that occasion his path was smoothed by the security man who had read about Tony’s expedition in the newspapers.

How did Tony get on with his canoe, and how did she stand up to the journey more than a century after she was first made? In the Canoe Focus article Tony himself was happy to quote Macgregor: ‘The Rob Roy has proved herself able ”to sail steadily, to paddle easily, to float lightly, to turn readily, and to bear rough usage on stones and banks, and in carts, railways and steamers; to be durable and dry, as well as comfortable and safe” just as she was originally designed to be. MacGregor’s theory was that ”a canoe ought to fit a man like a coat”. The Rob Roy had been a perfect fit on my journey and I look forward to our next adventure.’

I think the whole thing is an extraordinary story with at least four heroes in addition to old John Macgregor himself: Tony for being brave enough to set out on an arduous 500km paddling and sailing trip in unknown country  in a 138-year old canoe, his family for travelling with him and enabling him to make the journey in a modern age without horses and carts in wide use in remote areas, and the dear old boat itself.

For more on Macgregor, click here; to read Macgregor’s account of his own trip to the Baltic, click here.

An entertaining article about sailing canoe pioneer John MacGregor

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A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe

‘After taking on supplies at Gravesend, I shoved off into the tide, and lit a cigar, and now I felt we had fairly started,’ wrote philanthropist, barrister and pioneer of the Victorian canoeing craze, John MacGregor in his classic A thousand miles in the Rob Roy canoe.

He seems to have been a highly entertaining if largely bonkers character, from what we learn from this article published in Sea Kayaker Magazine.

I really must get around to reading Macgregor’s book myself!

See this post for construction information and ‘plans’ for Rob Roy-style canoe described by Neison in his book Practical boatbuilding for amateurs.