There's a unique, historic gathering of British solo sailors in London today
It’s a lunch for living sailing legends andYachting Monthlyis thrilled to be a privileged guest at an historic gathering of British solo sailors in London today, all raising a glass and a cheer for a very British hero.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is hosting a private lunch at which the invited guests will include every British solo round-the-world sailor who has completed a circumnavigation since 1969.
On a warm spring day 40 years ago today, Robin’s life changed forever when he sailed into Falmouth after 313 days aboardSuhailito become the first man to complete a single-handed voyage round the world.
At 15:25 this afternoon – the exact time that Sir Robin Kox-Johnston crossed the Falmouth finish line of The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 40 years ago – glasses will be raised by those assembled to toast this enduring hero of the high seas.
There are 18 living legends on the invitation list, including Sir Chay Blyth, Naomi James, Ellen MacArthur, Robin Davie, Mike Golding, and Josh Hall, as well as recent Vendee sailors Sam Davies, Dee Caffari, Brian Thompson and Steve White.
It’s salutary to think in these days of instant mobile phone and satcom communications (‘I’m on the train darling!’) that in 1969 when Sir Robin crossed the equator on March 9 he didn’t have the faintest idea that a massive mid-Atlantic search was underway for him.
‘Fears grow for Knox-Johnston!’ proclaimed one newspaper banner headline. Robin had last been sighted three months earlier, in November, in New Zealand. He had suffered a radio blackout due to equipment failure. No one knew if he’d rounded Cape Horn safely.
Suhailiwas finally sighted on 6 April by a British tanker and made front page headlines in every Sunday newspaper. After a hero’s welcome two weeks later in Falmouth, Knox-Johnston was declared ‘distressingly normal’ by a psychiatrist hired by theSunday Mirror.
Meanwhile, the man dubbed ‘the dark horse of the race’, Donald Crowhurst who had been faking his voyage positions and keeping a phony logbook, was suffering enormous stress. On 1 July 1969, Crowhurst is believed to have stepped off his trimaran,Teignmouth Electron, and drowned himself after 241 days at sea. His abandoned boat was discovered a few days later 600 miles south-west of the Azores.
Gallantly, Robin Knox-Johnston donated his £5,000 winner’s prize money to the Crowhurst family, which helped widow Clare them keep her home.
‘Robin Knox-Johnston is a real hero,’ says Donald Crowhurst’s son, Simon, who was 16 when he chanced upon a copy of the bookThe Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, about his father’s voyage, in the school library. For the first time he confronted the shocking truth about his father’s voyage into madness.
Forty years on, across the Atlantic, American Adam Turinas is heading a campaign to declare April 22 ‘Robin Knox-Johnston Day’ and has posted a Facebook page .
‘OK, so many of you will be reading this and thinking, ‘Hey Dummy, April 22nd is Earth Day,’ writes Turinas. ‘Well, of course, it is, but it is also the 40th anniversary of Sir Robin’s completion of the first-ever single-handed solo non-stop circumnavigation – a feat worth celebrating even though it conflicts with Earth Day …’
Turinas also thought that maybe we could make RKJs’ birthday ‘RKJ Day’ – but that’s March 17th, and St Patrick’s Day, and that’s way too much of a conflict!’ he admits! Robin celebrated his 70th birthday this year. But he’d rather you didn’t remind him!