Sir Robin calls for 'quality' in yacht systems

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is not happy with the time he is spending as a slave to his modern technology. He has found that his old teak ‘tub’ of a ketch Suhaili, the 32ft yacht he sailed around the world solo and non-stop in 1969, compares favourably with his hi-tech carbon fibre Open 60 he is currently sailing in the Velux 5 Oceans Race.

‘My average speed since the start is pretty close to Suhaili’s, (Suhaili* had a breach from Portugal to the ITCZ, poor Saga (Insurance) has had a beat all the way, and still has) but let’s be positive and assume it will improve. At 200 miles a day, 8 knots, I’ll arrive in Freo (Fremantle, Australia) on the 23rd December. If we can improve on that, and it should be possible once in the Southern Ocean, then say an average of 10 knots will get me to Freo on the 17th December. Either way I miss the test match, which is an utter tragedy.

I am not a natural revolutionary, but I am beginning to find myself supportive of the Luddite movement. I was thinking about some of the differences between this trip and Suhaili 38 years ago, and, apart from the obvious developments in the boats, the big difference is the time we now have to devote to communications but also the way we have become dependant upon electronic aids. That’s fine so long as they work. This dependence comes with a terrible price, the enormous cost in time trying to get it to work properly. I wonder whether anyone has looked into the man hours being spent on just trying to get the latest it of technology to work. We have all been shamed into thinking we must have this stuff, but its like the Emperor’s clothes, we need to turn back on the producers and say enough is enough, lets have some quality please before you sell us your product.

We may have a very nasty disease developing aboard, “Dementia Auto Pilutus” The port autopilot has refused to operate at all, it just tweets to itself and flashes. But to-day the starboard pilot suddenly became infected and switched itself off, said it had no Sea Talk, the no pilot, and then it said Standby. That means it had switched itself off and was waiting for me to give it instructions, which I duly did. What worries me is that this might happen at any time, and if it happened when running fast before a storm in the Southern Ocean that could be thoroughly dangerous. In Suhaili my self steering was a very simple wind directional system, which packed up off Australia anyway, after which I had to balance her, or steer, which for a while I was doing for about 16 hours a day until I learned how to get her to balance. These Open 60’s are nothing like that at all and I doubt that a balance downwind is possible. Looking ahead this may present a problem.

But on the other electronic front, to-day the SatC decided to sound its alarm. I was on deck when it happened, still working on the battens, but eventually became aware of the tweeting. Apparently it thinks it needs a printer, so it has been given something to make it think it has one. But it’s not that stupid and seems to have realised it does not have a printer, so it bleeps/tweets. Sat C gives me another expensive method of doing email, and it also brings in automatically the weather forecasts for the area we are in and safety messages. The other day it sent out an urgent message for a tug and tow working along on the Brazilian south coast, but a normal un prioritised message telling us a ship had a man overboard. An interesting comment on the value of a life!

Just after midnight, when it was cool, like 29 C, I did some more tests on the autopilot. The results were not positive. So we have had a pilot problem and a SatC problem to-day, that’s in addition to trying to create battens that might hold to Freo. Now if I did not have all these electronics I would have been able to get on with the battens without interruption and then actually do some sailing because we would have developed boats that did not need these things. I love GPS, it saves time and give you a fix every 3 seconds as opposed to once or twice a day as we managed before its came into service, but if it were switched off the sextant would come out and I would navigate as I used to. I just wonder how much of all this information the modern age provides I really need.

Now it’s just a wait to see where the wind will settle and get moving properly again. Time for a cup of the old Rosie Lee in soaked shorts, the shirt had been washed yesterday and was still drying so missed this rinse. Oh well, I’ll take a suspicion of the risk in the tea, just to be sociable. Purists might groan, but whisky in tea at 0400 on a dark and wet night is the nearest to nectar I can imagine just now, Chust Sublime, and if Dougie were here he’d tell you himself. (For the Para Handy Fans)

Nothing I can do for a bit so I’ll grab another couple of one hour stints of sleep before it gets light. I am keeping pretty well all things considered and am certainly not too tired at the moment, just a bit concerned at what is not working and how we are going to deal with it. My strength is coming back, I can wind the halyard winch longer between breaks now, and I am scarcely aware of the coccyx, so I think that may be healed which is giving me physical confidence again. This is the first time I have ever broken a bone, so a new experience for me.’