The wind roared and in the pitch dark of night the little Shetland fishing boat, thousands of miles from home on an epic journey with its brave young crew, was battling the Pacific swell with all its might.

Nick Grainger was in his early 20s and his wife, Julie, barely out of her teens.

Their incredible journey in a 21.6ft yawl with no engine, radio or modern navigational aids - not even a lifeboat - had taken them halfway around the world mainly powered by youthful enthusiasm and a craving for adventure.

The Herald: Nick Grainger and wife Julie with The Aegre Nick Grainger and wife Julie with The Aegre (Image: Nick Grainger)

By early September 1974 they had sailed the plucky wooden boat from Scourie on the northwest coast to the Canary Islands, onwards to Madeira and across the North Atlantic to the West Indies.

Seemingly unstoppable, despite Julie’s seasickness, they pressed on, through the Panama Canal and on to Tahiti.

Next stop was to be the Cook Islands and New Zealand.

They were hundreds of miles from land and safety, when nature and the elements at their most vicious, struck.

The astonishing Boys’ Own style adventure of how the pair, aged just 23 and 19 when they set off from Scourie Pier, overcame the horrors of a storm-lashed capsizing in the middle of the Pacific has only now been told, 50 years since it happened.

For while such a journey today would have had the world watching, with GPS trackers, social media updates, sponsorship and benefits of being able to quickly radio for help, their adventure was undertaken with just a handful of people aware and occasional letters sent home to confirm they were still alive.

As decades passed and conscious the story might be lost forever, Nick, now in his early 70s, detailed the remarkable trip in a recently published book, The Voyage of The Aegre.

It tells how he was inspired by the 1960s spirit of adventure shown by sailor John Ridgway, who rowed the North Atlantic in a 20ft open dory with Chay Blyth, and who sparked the idea of sailing The Aegre far beyond UK waters.

It then follows the gripping story of how the pair overcame being plunged into raging Pacific waters when the boat capsized during a cyclone, leaving it broken and their precious belongings lost to the mercy of the ocean.

Only luck, Nick’s meticulous preparations and age-old skills that saw him navigate using the sunrise, sunset and the stars, saved their lives.

The Herald: The decked Aegre emerges from Bob Macinnes’s workshop, Scourie, Sutherland, May 1973The decked Aegre emerges from Bob Macinnes’s workshop, Scourie, Sutherland, May 1973 (Image: Nick Grainger)

“I look back and it was a terrific adventure,” says Nick, who now lives in New Zealand but who recently returned to The Aegre’s spiritual home of Shetland to launch the book.

“On hindsight,” he adds, “I would have to say we were lucky to survive.”

A yearning for adventure had seen him swap life as a dispensing optician for a job at Ridgway’s outdoor centre in Ardmore. It was the early 1970s, and although raised in landlocked East Anglia, he discovered a love of the open water and sailing the centre’s 16ft boats.

Encouraged by John, Nick nurtured a dream of finding a boat to sail from the northwest of Scotland to the south of England, camping out on beaches along the way.

The Herald: The Aegre under construction in Wick in 1966. Builder Tom Edwardson of Unst.The Aegre under construction in Wick in 1966. Builder Tom Edwardson of Unst. (Image: Nick Grainger)

The Aegre had been built in 1966 in Wick by Unst boatbuilder Tom Edwardson using mahogany and larch planks, copper fittings and constructed purely by eye. Her name was a variation of Aegir; fittingly, the Norse god of the sea.

Having bought her in Scrabster from a Dounreay nuclear engineer for £300, Nick asked then girlfriend, Julie, to join him.

“She was doing maths at university and had never been on a boat smaller than the Isle of Wight ferry, but she thought it was more interesting than university,” he recalls.

“John said if we could get this boat to the south of England, why not go to the Mediterranean? Then, we could go to the Canary Islands. And then it’s just 3000 miles to the West Indies.

“We were aghast at the idea,” he recalls. “But then we came to conclusion that sailing down the coast of Britain was more hazardous.

“The idea of sailing across the Atlantic… could we do it?”

The Herald: The internal layout of The Aegre The internal layout of The Aegre (Image: Nick Grainger)

They arranged for Scourie boatbuilder Bob Macinnes to build a deck on The Aegre and set off in July 1973 loaded up with soya bean meals packed into 100 plastic ice cream tubs, and 200 litres of water in jerricans in place of some of the Caithness slate ballast.

That move would prove crucial months later when The Aegre capsized, and Nick had to frantically empty the water to improve the stricken yacht’s buoyancy.

Meanwhile, below deck the cramped space left room for just one person at any time, and a single bunk. It was, says Nick, “like sleeping beneath a table.”

The boat sailed north of Lewis, past St Kilda where they ran into a succession of gales, past Ireland and beyond to Madeira, battling prevailing winds and the current.

“We had spent a year sailing and preparing,” adds Nick. “My wife made a good sailor, but she had seasickness and at first pretty much hated it.

“By time we reached Madeira it was forgotten, and she loved it.

“There was no question of not going to the Canary Islands.”

The Herald: Nick Grainger and wife Julie pictured in 1974Nick Grainger and wife Julie pictured in 1974 (Image: Nick Grainger)

With experience and confidence growing, they had remarkably few qualms about crossing to Barbados.

They had passed through the Panama Canal, spent 80 days on Tahiti while The Aegre underwent maintenance and were a couple of days into the 730-miles passage to the Cook Islands when a cyclone struck.

As The Aegre became swamped beneath the raging Pacific, it capsized and threw Julie into the water.

Nick recalls being woken by a sudden roaring, flipped head over heels and landing in water with the deck beams beneath him.

He escaped to find The Aegre floating upside down, with Julie struggling on the other side. As he reached out to grab her, the boat flipped again, this time ending the right way up but almost flush with the sea and Julie feared trapped below.

The Herald: The Aegre sailed across the Atlantic before capsizing in a cyclone off Tahiti The Aegre sailed across the Atlantic before capsizing in a cyclone off Tahiti (Image: Nick Grainger)

With much of their belongings spilling into the water around them, The Aegre’s mast broken and the boat at risk of breaking in two, Nick yanked Julie back on board and desperately attempted to blow up a small inflatable dinghy they had bought just weeks earlier.  

They had just piled in some of their most essential items when a wall of water ripped it and their belongings, including their precious sextant, out of reach.

There was no choice but to remain with The Aegre.

To lighten the load and aid buoyancy, Nick emptied all but half a dozen of their fresh water jerricans.

Then as the boat began to dry, he set about building a makeshift mast.

With navigational equipment and sailing records gone, Nick used an old chromometer, the sun and the stars to plot a course that, remarkably, led them to Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa.

They arrived, 26 days after having capsized and with food and water running out.

However, with The Aegre battered and requiring extensive repairs, the couple’s immense journey was over.

They went on to New Zealand to work for an outdoor bound centre, leaving the tough little yacht to new owners.


The Herald: The couple pictured recovering in Pago Pago, American SamoaThe couple pictured recovering in Pago Pago, American Samoa (Image: Nick Grainger)

Their journey was extreme, but Nick says it was an era of moon landings and breaking records, before technology became prevalent, and adventure was in the air.

They could scarcely have hoped for a better companion than The Aegre.

“These boats came from a Viking heritage and worked as fishing boats off Shetland and Orkney in incredibly rough seas that were very dangerous,” he adds.

“They are exceptional sea boats; quite a subtle design, double-ended, and refined over the years.

“It’s a perfect boat to sail down the coast – at first I thought it would be like taking a camper van to sea.

“Then the idea went crazy, to do the Atlantic.”


The Herald: Author Nick Grainger and his book, The Voyage of The AegreAuthor Nick Grainger and his book, The Voyage of The Aegre (Image: Nick Grainger)

It’s not known what eventually came of The Aegre, but its story is not completely over.

Having read of Nick and Julie’s incredible journey, one of Scotland’s last traditional boatbuilders, Peter Matheson, of Clydeside Boatbuilders, resolved to pay tribute to their Shetland boat.

He is now working from Nick’s descriptions, sketches and photographs to create a new version of The Aegre.

“I wasn’t aware of what they had done until I read the book,” Peter says. “I think they were very brave and had a lot of confidence in their boat.

“It was an extremely good sea boat, designed for fishing in the Pentland Firth and Shetland where the waters are dangerous.

"I am not surprised that Nick's little yawl made it so far. It shows the  quality of both the boat and its young and inexperienced crew. This was some combination none the less.


The Herald: End of the Voyage Oct 74, The Aegre up on the hard in Pago Pago awaiting rebuildEnd of the Voyage Oct 74, The Aegre up on the hard in Pago Pago awaiting rebuild (Image: Nick Grainger)

“They got it in a condition where it was very safe; even when it went upside down, it came back the right way up.

“I’ve built a lot of this kind of boat, and thought I would build one that is as identical as I can make it to The Aegre.

“But,” he adds, “I’m not going to cross the Atlantic in it. Apart from anything, I don’t think my wife would let me.”

The Voyage of The Aegre by Nicholas Grainger is available from his website, Amazon and bookshops