Nine men started that race and only ome man finished…
For the first episode of Salty Journals we got the chance to speak with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston about his legendary voyage 51 years ago.
Sir William Robert Patrick Knox-Johnston CBE RD is a British sailor. In 1969, he became the first person to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. Along with Sir Peter Blake, he won the second Jules Verne Trophy, for which they were also named the ISAF Yachtsman of the Year award.
The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much debated war and a strong spirit of rebellion in the air that swept through countries all over the world. Occurring at the dawn of the television age, the historic events of 1968 also played out on TV screens across the world, bringing them home in a way that had never been possible before.
Things didn’t calm down much in 1969. The major News Stories of the year include The Beatles’ last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records, First Concorde test flight. Woodstock. As well as the first man to The first man to land on the moon. That was the Apollo 11 mission with Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.
It was against this backdrop in history that he Sunday Times Golden Globe race finished. That was audio you heard just before.
9 men started that race and only one finished.
That man was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. Sire Robin and his 9.75m traditional ketich rigged double ended yacht Suhaili who at the start, was considered the most unlikely boat and given no chance.
It was a funny sort of race, with no real rules, no official start line and you could set off when you were ready. But the prize was worth having — £5000 — which would be worth a lot more today! And of course the achievement beyond price: the objective was to be the first to sail single-handed non-stop round the world.
No easy race either the rest of the competitors either sank, retired or committed suicide.
French entrant Bernard Moitessier famously continued sailing his sturdy yacht Joshua rounded Cape Horn, then continued on for a second circuit of the Southern Ocean ending up in Tahiti to “save my soul” as he put it, rather than head back to civilisation, a possible winner and certain fame.
Donald Crowhurst sailed an imaginary voyage around the world, whilst actually sailing in circles in the Atlantic Ocean. He simply transmitted fake position reports hoping to fool the world. Ultimately this deception played out a twisted route in his mind, all described with great detail in the second real sailing log to the point he finally slipped over the side in an apparent suicide, his trimaran found drifting, abandoned.
The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race quickly became legend to sailors and non-sailors alike with its triumph and tragedies and epic human endeavour in facing the unknown.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, was a long term sailor himself. He joined the Merchant Navy at 17, soon becoming a deck officer with the British India Steam Navigation Company.
He continues to sail and is the executive chairman of Clipper Ventures, which runs the Clipper Round the World Race, open to people without sailing experience.
Sir Robin had every piece of misfortune to force him to retire duly happened: polluted water supplies, smashed cabin top, collapsed boom, broken self-steering gear, and no radio contact for months on end.
Blessed with immense strength of character, he endures everything the world and the oceans can throw at him with cheerful British stoicism, a cigarette or two, and a glass of brandy.
He is as tough as teak and intensely practical, forever diving into the sea and doing running repairs, coping with constant soakings, adjusting the steering, sewing up a ripped jib.
And it is clear that Sir Robins love for staying active hasn’t changed. He is still diving, sailing and tinkering.
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