Guy Grieve: Why I took my family sailing around the world

Reluctant TV personality Guy Grieve on the impact – and importance – of taking his young family around the world on a boat

8 mins

Adventurer, author and reluctant TV personality Guy Grieve swapped his office job for the life he really wanted. Having spent a year alone in Alaska, his next trip saw him sail a yacht from Venezuela to Scotland, his wife and two young sons by his side. When we last checked, he and wife Juliet were running the Ethical Shellfish Company close to their home on the Isle of Mull.

He spoke with Rosie Driffill about living a life of adventure of the high seas with a young family in tow.

What were you doing before you decided to embark on your first excursion?

I was stuck in an office job at the Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh and driving 2,000 miles every month commuting between the office and a little small holding that we were trying renovate in the Borders of Scotland

What does it take to be the guy that fantasises about adventure, then actually does it?

I watched my beloved step-father die at the age of 47. He had so much going for him and was such a wonderful man. He did the 9-5 everyday, without fail and with commitment and honour. He dreamt that one day he would be able to do ‘what he really wanted’, which was to get closer to nature and live simply and well. That was his dream but cancer got him first. I was 16 when he was taken from us. I never forgot the lesson I learnt then that one half of life is death. So that’s why I try to DO what I dream about. I am motivated as much by the nearness of death as the joy of life itself. I also read Walden by Henry Thoreau... that really did the trick.

You spent a year in Alaska in sub-zero conditions encountering barely a soul the whole time you were there. What was it that you needed from that trip? Solitude? To find yourself?

I worship the outdoors. I yearn for it, I long for the silences and the sounds. The scent of wild places, the sight, the good feeling of being profoundly ignored yet becoming part of a whole. Yet all I had around me was a kind of comfortable abstraction from all that I felt was real. No contrasts. Alaska was my pilgrimage and a chance to re-set my calibrations. I had lost my way a little and needed to find a truer road.

You decided to embark on your next trip – sailing a yacht from the Americas to Scotland – with your whole family, which meant remortgaging your house and taking the children out of school. Psychologically, how did you manage the risk?

That was a lucky time when one could turn up at the bank and ask for a home improvement loan and get it! For me and my family, the greatest risk was NOT trying to make a go of such an adventure. We also figured that money always slips out of our hands anyway as life is expensive, so why not just go for it?

You've mentioned that you had your male pride knocked once or twice on your trip. Did you question what you perceived to be your role within the family?

I have always been lucky in adventures to the degree that when the going got rough my body could always take the knocks. A bit of dumb brute strength has often helped me. At sea I had not reckoned with sea-sickness. It turned me into a vomiting cry-baby and reduced me to jelly! I had expected to be Captain Invincible. It was a classic moment of ‘ocean puts man in his place’. So I found it tough not being able to really lead the venture and needed to rely on Juliet and for a short while, when they were with us, my parents in law with a combined age of 140!

What are the best things about travelling with the family?

I remember an Athabascan Indian asking me why I did not have my wife with me. He was nonplussed. How could a man on his own be any good in the bush? He was right – the best combination for navigating and living in the wilderness is a man and woman. This is the natural team for survival. So having Juliet with me doubled my effectiveness. She is also far brighter which helps. Added to this having the cubs with us gave a depth to the journey as we watched them take it all in. We saw their characters forming. Also when you travel with children you are welcomed much more deeply into the cultures you pass through. There is a commonality there as your children simply play with any other children, and parents – whoever they are – become united.

What if your wife wanted to up sticks and travel alone? Would you support that?

Of course. It would mean that I could turn the house into a total tip, not bother with much else and spend a lot of time in between diving, lying on the sofa and being a total slob.

You don't talk very fondly of your TV gigs. What was it about them that didn't sit so well with you?

I loved the experience of making TV stuff. Such wonderful happy free people to work with and some incredible chances to meet amazing people and to get glimpses of so many other lives. Some TV can be really good. However, I did not like the fact that all f-ups, disasters and the usual calamities that occur in the outdoors were always edited out. There was a sense that the TV people felt good outdoorsmen do everything perfectly. They don’t. It is about making mistakes, coming a cropper, getting things badly wrong. The skill comes in dealing with these constant blips effectively, improvising and adapting and keeping on while also ensuring that the last thing to go is humour. I also 100% hate flattery; it gave me the creeps.

Would you ever consider doing TV again?

I do yearn to make a film or book one day about the wilderness and bush NOT from a gung-ho Bear Grylls action standpoint. But to bring to viewers what I experience out in the wilds which is the deep peace, comfort and joy that can be found in the back of beyond. I’d call it Outdoor Soul-Food. Any producers out there with the same ideas give me a call!

You're now on the Isle of Mull running the Ethical Shellfish Company. What is the project all about, and what gave you the idea?

The aim of the Ethical Shellfish Company was and is to create a great business that supports our family and also generates jobs for our community. However, our aim is to do all this without habitat destruction. We got the idea of forming an ‘Ethical’ fishing company because without an ethic of respect for the sea and restraint we would be simply be looting the garden. Sadly a few fishers – mainly involved in dredge fishing for scallops – think it is perfectly acceptable to completely remove all three dimensional life from the sea bed in order to make their living. These people have no ethics beyond their own greed. How can they not see that the marine environment does not belong to them and that they should learn to pick the apples without tearing the tree down and trampling everything else in the garden?

What's next for you professionally and/or adventures-wise? What will happen to the company if you get itchy feet?

We have many lives to lead before we die and, with this in mind, maybe one day I will head off on a new adventure. Right now though we just have to keep on with the Ethical Shellfish Company, which is steadily growing. My hope is that we will be able to continue to prove that it is possible to make money from the sea without destroying our precious marine habitat.

Guy Grieve Sea LegsSea Legs – Guy’s account of his seaborne adventures between Venezuela and Mull – can be ordered on Amazon now.

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