Coronavirus: Amputee home in Derry after transatlantic solo-sail

Garry Crothers Image copyright DCSDC
Image caption It took Garry Crothers 37 days to complete his voyage from Saint Martin to Londonderry

An amputee sailor stranded in the Caribbean because of the coronavirus outbreak has completed a 4,000-mile solo journey to get home to NI.

Garry Crothers, who lost an arm after a motorbike accident in 2009, arrived home in Londonderry on Saturday after 37 days at sea.

He had been in Saint Martin when the pandemic shut down global air travel.

"I had little choice but to set sail for home, and now that I'm here it is absolutely wonderful," he said.

Stuck on the Caribbean island, and with hurricane season closing in, he feared he would miss his daughter Oonagh's wedding planned for September.

"Saint Martin is in the north of the Caribbean and is an area that is at the epicentre of the hurricane season," he told BBC News NI.

"I could have had the yacht lifted out and stored there but, with no flights home because of the pandemic, I then would have been stranded."

Image copyright Garry Crothers
Image caption Before his 37-day voyage, Garry's previous longest solo sail had lasted seven days

Weighing up his options, he came to the conclusion that sailing his yacht Kind of Blue almost 4,000 miles to Derry was what he would do.

"It was the easiest option to make sure I got home in good time for my daughter's wedding," he said.

"I stocked up on food and supplies and I set sail for home," he added.

'The sleep of the dead'

Although an experienced sailor, Garry's previous longest solo sail had lasted just seven days.

Leaving Saint Martin in late May, it would be 37 days before he sailed up the River Foyle on Saturday.

"It is very strange spending that amount of time on your own. You have got to keep yourself very focused. I was focused on getting home, I could have stopped over in the Azores, but I was determined to keep going, to get home," he said.

Image copyright Foyle Sailability
Image caption Garry's wife, Marie, and daughters, Amy and Oonagh, were waiting for him as he sailed back into Derry

"There are lots of things to keep busy with, repairs on the boat, maintenance work, and you spend a lot of time listening to the weather forecast, he said.

Sleep is "a real challenge" while on board, he added.

On Saturday night, his first night on dry land and in his own bed, he said he "slept the sleep of the dead".

Some aspects of his voyage, he said, were made all the more challenging because he has one arm.

Image copyright foyle sailability
Image caption A welcome home pint was waiting in Derry for Garry

His left arm was seriously damaged following a motorbike accident in 2009. In 2018, he made the decision to have it amputated.

"I can't gloss over it, it makes everything that bit more challenging... but you learn to do things differently," said Garry, the vice-chairman of Foyle Sailability, a charity that encourages people with disabilities to sail.

"There are times, though, that on the boat it is a struggle."

'Ecstatic to be home'

Garry was welcomed home by his wife, Marie, and daughters Amy and Oonagh on Saturday afternoon.

"I am ecstatic to be home," he said.

He said he was gobsmacked by the amount of people who turned out to welcome him.

Image copyright DCSDC
Image caption Garry was welcomed home on Saturday by family, friends and well wishers

Derry's deputy mayor Graham Warke was among those waiting on the banks of the Foyle.

"Garry's story really is testament to the fact that you can achieve so much with passion, determination and belief," he said.

"It is so impressive that Garry was able to sail again at all after his accident, but the fact that he has sailed solo across the Atlantic is truly inspirational."

The deputy mayor said the journey "will certainly inspire others to believe that they, too, can defy the odds".