McClean made his first Atlantic crossing in 1969 at the age of 26, a solo journey that took him 70 days. In 1982, he set a record for sailing the smallest yacht across the Atlantic, then reclaimed the record after it was taken from him by sawing off part of his original boat. In 1985, he lived on the tiny uninhabited islet of Rockall for 40 days, then rowed across the Atlantic once again, this time in a record 54 days.
In 1990, McClean completed yet another Atlantic crossing in the Typhoo Atlantic Challenger, a bright red bottle-shaped vessel. The bottle ship was equipped with a motor and sail, and the crossing took 37 days.