The shadow of Crowhurst


What on earth can be left to say about the ill-prepared Sunday Times Golden Globe Race which made Robin Knox-Johnston a knight and a household name, taught Chay Blyth that a bilge-keeler was not a boat in which to sail the Southern Ocean, and sent weekend yachtsman Donald Crowhurst to a watery grave?

Plenty if you read BBC reporter Chris Eakin’s book, A Race Too Far, published by Ebury Press at £16.99. Mr Eakin is a sailor himself, and a competent one, he has crossed Biscay twice in his Hallberg Rassy 36, with only his wife Deborah, a GP, as crew.

He has tracked down anyone still breathing whose life was affected by the race and has some fabulous stories to tell. Take Eve Tetley, now living on Alderney, the widow of Nigel Tetley whose trimaran sank after breaking up just 1,100 miles from the finish. He believed Crowhurst was not far astern and gaining so he pressed on when he should have eased up. Three years after such huge disappointment he was found hanged on a tree branch, dressed in lady’s stockings and suspender belt. Understandably Eve had not spoken – ever – of her husband’s demise. And Mr Eakin kept her away from me – when I tried – in classic doorstepping style!
Having read his book I can understand why. His story with Eve is a cracking exclusive. Her hatred for Crowhurst still runs deep.

But that’s not all, he tracked down French sailor Bernard Moitessier’s widow Francoise and discovered the mystic hero was also a serial adulterer who pleaded with his Paris-based wife to send wool out to Tahiti so his mistress could knit clothes for his love-child!

He also has a lengthy conversation with Crowhurst’s widow Clare who bought a wooden house in the middle of the Australian outback where she spends six months every year. Having had journalists camping in her garden and still, occasionally, banging on her front door 40 years on, it’s the only place she feels free of the ‘Golden Globe fallout’ as Eakin describes it.

Shining through the pages rides Sir Robin Knox-Johnston a hero in every sense of the word. He gave his prize money to the Crowhursts, allowed Eve to live in his Hamble boatyard at cost, and helped move her to Alderney in the boat she and Nigel never finished. There is an unforgettable image of Sir Robin nipping up the quayside ladder in Bray, with Eve’s baby in a carry-cot held between his teeth.

Like The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst and Voyage for Madmen, A Race Too Far is a cracking book. I can’t recommend it too highly.