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Scottish teacher first deaf person to sail single-handed around the world

by Gary McQueen 8 May 2013 22:53 BST 8 May 2013
Gerry Hughes becomes the first deaf person ever to sail single-handed around the world past all five capes © Craig Williamson

A Scottish teacher who was born profoundly deaf has become the first deaf person ever to sail single-handed around the world past all five capes.

Gerry Hughes, 55, from Glasgow set sail last September leaving behind his wife and two daughters as he embarked on the ultimate sailing challenge which only around 300 people have completed in history (compared to over 1500 that have made it to the top of Mount Everest).

Now, Gerry is part of an exclusive list of solo-circumnavigators joining the likes of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Francis Chichester, achieving a life-long ambition and raising awareness of the deaf community to the wider world.

Over the last eight months, Gerry has endured tough sailing conditions that led him at one stage to capsize as a result of massive waves approaching from an unexpected direction. He has also suffered with continual problems with his onboard electronic equipment throughout a journey that has lasted more than 32,000 miles.

Modern communications technology has allowed the public to watch Gerry en route, with his progress tracked on his website and regular updates supplied to his near 3,000 followers on Facebook.

His outstanding feat can now be added to Gerry's list of previous achievements, including becoming the first deaf person to sail around the British Isles in 1981 and the first deaf skipper to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in the Original Single-Handed Transatlantic Race OSTAR in 2005 – all of which is a world away from his job teaching deaf pupils at St Roch's Secondary School in Glasgow.

Gerry said: "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.

"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.

"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.

"The support I have received has also played a huge part in completing this voyage and it is wonderful to be reunited with my wife and daughters who have undoubtedly endured as many highs and lows as I have during the period of my challenge.

"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."

Minister for Commonwealth Games and Sport, Shona Robison MSP, has also congratulated Gerry on his return. Ms Robison said: "To sail round the world single-handedly is achievement enough - to do so when profoundly deaf is just incredible. Gerry's determination and courage throughout his life to overcome his disability is truly inspirational and will teach young people, deaf and hearing, that they can overcome any obstacles they face in life."

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston CBE, the first man to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the world in 1969, also 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.

"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 and is real achievement."

Further details about Gerry's challenge can be found at