In August 1966, British yachtsman Francis Chichester set out from England to sail solo around the world to Australia and back via the five Great Capes in the 16m Gipsy Moth IV in a bid to beat the Clipper ship records.
He completed the circumnavigation in 226 days (274 days including the stopover in Sydney) to set a record for the fastest voyage around the world in a small boat.
A diverse adventurer and excellent navigator, Chichester attracted huge interest thanks to the exclusive coverage provided by The Sunday Times newspaper. Returning triumphant on 28th May 1967, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and became not only a British hero but an inspiration to many more who would follow in his wake.
There was now just one last challenge left to man: To sail solo non-stop around the globe, and a number of sailors began to plan.
In March 1968, the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was announced – the first-ever attempt to sail solo non-stop around the world. There was no entry fee, virtually no rules nor qualification requirements because most of those who become entrants were already well on the way with their planning to attempt this challenge anyway.
By offering a trophy for the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world via the five great capes and a £5000 UK Pounds Price for the fastest time, the Paper created an instant race and a great story to increase circulation.
Nine colourful characters with varying sailing skills headed off at various times in a strange collection of yachts.
|Name / Nationality||Boat||Previous sailing||Start||Outcome||Finish|
|John Ridgway||English Rose IV 30 foot (9.1 m) Westerly 30 sloop||Fastnet Rock single-handed (and rowed the Atlantic)||Inishmore 1 June 1968||Retired||Recife, Brazil 21 July 1968|
|Chay Blyth||Dytiscus III 30 foot (9.1 m) Kingfisher 30 sloop||No sailing at all (but rowed the Atlantic)||Hamble 8 June 1968||Retired||East London 13 September 1968|
|Robin Knox-Johnston||Suhaili 32 foot (9.8 m) ketch||India to UK in Suhaili||Falmouth 14 June 1968||Finished 312 days||Falmouth 22 April 1969|
|Loïck Fougeron||Captain Browne 30 foot (9.1 m) gaff cutter||Morocco to Plymouth||Plymouth 22 August 1968||Retired||Saint Helena 27 November 1968|
|Bernard Moitessier||Joshua 39 foot (12 m) ketch||Tahiti–France, via Cape Horn||Plymouth 22 August 1968||Retired||Tahiti 21 June 1969|
|Bill King||Galway Blazer II 42 foot (13 m) junk schooner||Transatlantic, West Indies||Plymouth 24 August 1968||Retired||Cape Town 22 November 1968|
|Nigel Tetley||Victress 40 foot (12 m) trimaran||1966 Round Britain Race||Plymouth 16 September 1968||Sank, rescued||North Atlantic 21 May 1969|
|Alex Carozzo||Gancia Americano 66 foot (20 m) ketch||Trans-Pacific, 1968 OSTAR||Cowes 31 October 1968||Retired||Porto 14 November 1968|
|Donald Crowhurst||Teignmouth Electron 40 foot (12 m) trimaran||Day / weekend||Teignmouth 31 October 1968||Died by suicide||North Atlantic 1 July 1969|
There was only one finisher – Robin Knox-Johnston and his 9.75m traditional ketch-rigged double-ended yacht Suhaili who, at the start, were considered the most unlikely boat and given no chance.
The rest 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 and ended up in Tahiti to “save my soul” as he put it – rather than heading back to civilization, 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 his 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 a legend to sailors and non-sailors alike with its triumph and tragedies and epic human endeavour in facing the unknown. It remains so today.
Later, the Race would inspire the formation of the BOC Challenge Around Alone and Vendée Globe solo round the world races.
To learn more about this fascinating story, go to Wikipedia, watch the documentary ‘Deep Water‘ or read these excellent books: A World of My Own by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier, A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols.
In 2017, the Hollywood film The Mercy was released and tells the story of Donald Crowhurst (played by Colin Firth).
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