The greatest sea drama of the century


In the latest issue of Yachting Monthly is a 10-page special on the story of Donald Crowhurst, the 36-year-old sailor who set off to race around the world, but instead suffered an early death after leaving his cranky trimaran Teignmouth Electron drifting in the Atlantic.

Once he found out she was a leaking death-trap he was faced with going on to certain death in the Southern Ocean or turning back to face financial ruin in Devon – his house and business were re-mortgaged to help finance the escapade. Instead he decided to fake a voyage around the world as he sailed round in circles in the South Atlantic.

I do not know what I would have made of Donald Crowhurst had I met him. I spent several hours talking to one of his sons: Simon, who is a charming, intelligent and engagingly honest man.

But there is one thing that makes me warm to Crowhurst senior immediately and that is the tear between the polo neck and shoulder of his pullover. Not for him the posing in trendy foul weather gear, last minute checking in the mirror that the right profile was on show for the national newspapers and BBC TV cameras. The torn jumper appears in many shots, but it did not bother him a jot.

Here was a man obliged to engage in publicity to meet his sponsors’ needs. He was a man whose dream was in vain, but whose voyage was not for vanity’s sake.