Sailor documents world expedition

It’s been more than five years since retired bison producer Ben Gray and his sons returned to Alberta from their 16-month sailing trip around the world, but the memories haven’t faded.

Gray, who recently published a book about their world tour, said he tackled the writing process the same way he sailed around the world — by breaking it into small pieces and tackling it one day at a time.

“I found once I got going, I could do it. Then once I got the stuff sorted out, I could go back and edit it and I found I didn’t have all the stuff in my brain at once,” Gray said from his home in Grande Prairie, Alta.

“It was a good lesson for me. I’ve had a few big jobs in my life. This was a very good learning experience,” he said.

Gray used the ship’s logs, diaries, e-mails and pictures to piece together their story, starting from the construction of the boat in Vancouver and ending with its return Aug. 12, 2006.

In between were the boat’s launch at Dunvegan, Alta., on the Peace River May 22, 2005, and the trip down Canada’s northern rivers, across the treacherous Arctic, into the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and back through Alaska and the British Columbia coast.

While many people have sailed around the world, no one has started their sailing journey in the middle of the Prairies.

“We had quite a few firsts on this trip. That’s what made it interesting,” said Gray, who raised bison in the Peace River region’s Silver Valley area before embarking on his adventure.

Looking back through his notes, Gray said it would be easy to dwell on the difficulties and challenges faced on the trip, but instead he looks on the trip as a series of adventures.

“To me, this expedition was a completely interesting, demanding and fulfilling challenge. With each of the problems we took it one day, then the next day and the next day.”

His life experience ranching, working in the oilfield, racing jet boats and flying aircraft gave Gray the courage to tackle a round-the-world trip.

“It does require a broad range of knowledge and experience from those types of things and just working your way through it. So many of those challenges may become a roadblock because we don’t dissect them and work through each problem and let them become a wall of problems.”

The crew had their challenges from the beginning, starting with navigating the boat through the shallow waters of the Peace River and then getting past the 16 kilo-metre-long Vermilion Chutes in northern Alberta.

The weather, especially in the Arctic, posed some of the most difficult problems for the crew. The 17-metre boat was stuck on an ice floe for five days, bobbing along with the current before a Canadian coast guard icebreaker pushed it off.

The crew of the Idlewild was welcomed at ports around the world throughout the journey.

“We were unique to them, doing something they would like to do,” he said.

“It was easy for them to invite us into their life because we looked interesting. So often we don’t have that opportunity. If we go as tourists we’re just another tourist, we’re not unique at all. Our trip made us unique. Our boat looked unique.”

The boat was built for travel on rivers, the Arctic and as an ocean going vessel.

Gray needed to do some fast talking when they were captured by the Russian navy after he didn’t announce his boat’s arrival before sailing into the harbour.

They also had their guns loaded and ready while sailing off the coast of Indonesia when a few boats seemed to come a bit too close.

Gray said it’s still too early to look back on the trip as a family legacy few people never get to accomplish.

“I think of that a bit. I still have the original idea it was just a real challenging, fun thing to do. I still visualize it more before and during than think of it after as a legacy,” he said. “For me, it was just a fun thing and great to go out there and challenge it.”

Gray has just ordered his third batch of 300 copies of An Incredible Journey, The Idlewild Expedition, through a Victoria printer.

He has given several away to family and friends and sells the rest through his website.

He’s also released an electronic form of the book for electronic readers and is finalizing an audio version.

“I promised the grandchildren it would be recorded in some form. It’s too big of project not to record.”

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