Scots adventurer set to take his 65-foot whale boat across the Atlantic

Tom McClean, and his whale boat "Moby" (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)
Tom McClean, and his whale boat "Moby" (Andrew Cawley / DC Thomson)

Behind him, set against snow-capped peaks and the rugged but beautiful Highland landscape, sits a 65-foot steel sperm whale the 73-year-old intends to sail across the Atlantic.

Tom designed ‘Moby’, as she’s called, and oversaw the building project from scratch. He launched his project 20 years ago and estimates he’s spent £100,000 in total bringing the steel sea monster to life.

But – like a beached whale – she hasn’t moved in three years and the only jaunts before that were short journeys off the West Coast.

Now, however, Tom is gearing up for the adventure of a lifetime, and is preparing Moby for a 3,000 mile crossing of the North Atlantic.

It will be a mission more perilous than anything Jonah or Captain Ahab ever faced.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before and it has been a long time coming,” said Tom, speaking to The Sunday Post from his remote home.

“Arriving to a huge crowd will be an unbelievable swan-song and my crowning achievement.”

First, Tom needs to ensure Moby is in ship shape and Bristol fashion form.

The massive 62-tonne beast currently has moss growing on the peeling paint covering its three quarter inch-thick hull and a leaky seal in its rudder stock flooding the kitchen.

Tom – who also runs a successful outward bound centre – plans to refit the boat with new electric motors to replace the reliable but noisy and smelly diesel ones.

He also wants to completely redo the interior, which has a bridge, lounge and bunks for a crew of 10.

He’s also planning a luxury touch – a bath, complete with gold taps –where the crew will be able to relax after a hard shift.

“I’ve learned to stick at things when other people might give up,” said Tom, who already holds several records for solo rowing and yachting voyages across the Atlantic. It makes you feel alive to have a challenge, not just working to pay the bills.”

Tom’s ambition is just the latest chapter in a remarkable life filled with true grit and slightly mad adventures that he said have led him to this point.

Abandoned in a grim wartime orphanage aged five, where fights and beatings were a way of life, he learned the stubbornness, self-reliance and unyielding will to survive that shaped his life.

He joined the Parachute Regiment at 17, which he described as easy compared to the orphanage, and after six years of action in Borneo, Aden and Malaya was one of only three in 105 to pass the gruelling selection course for the elite SAS.

Three years later, aged 26, he set off from Newfoundland in a small fishing dory trying to become the first person to row solo across the Atlantic, the SAS telling him “we’ll pay you if you make it back”.

He said: “Every part of my life has prepared me for the next.

“The orphanage toughened me up for the army, and the army toughened me up for the SAS, which taught me how to survive on my adventures.

“It’s all about survival, looking after yourself and doing what you need to do.”

Tom knows a thing or two about survival, given that he’s built his remarkable creation from the remote confines of the Knoydart peninsula, one of the most inaccessible parts of mainland Scotland.

His isolated home – which, of course, he built from scratch – is only accessible by boat or a gruelling seven-mile hike.

He shares his hydro-electricity powered beach-side cottage with Jill, with whom he has two sons – James, 35, and Ryan, 33.

She has grown used to Tom’s adventurous streak over the years, having waited for him while he became the first man to survive for 40 days alone on Rockall – a remote rocky outcrop in the north Atlantic.

“With every project I never want him to do it but he always convinces me he will be fine,” said Jill.

“He convinces me that he has planned it well, and then I end up helping.

“I have complete faith in him.”

Tom said people often ask him for tips for their own solo crossings, and he tells them to sit in a cupboard for three days and then decide if they still want to do it.

The adventurer – who wants to be buried in Moby – added: “It’s all mental. Big guys can do a lot, but if you’re dirty, tired, cold and everything is going wrong can you still do it, can you smile under pressure? You have to not want the world, not need to call your family or even think about them.

“If they are any good they will still like you when you get back.”


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