Triumph & tragedy: The 1968 Golden Globe Race

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The 2018 Golden Globe boat race is well under way with Frenchman Jean-Luc van den Heede in the first position after navigating the notoriously treacherous Cape Horn on November 23 and with eight of the original eighteen entrants remaining. The 2018 race is being held in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the original Golden Globe Boat Race, which saw Robin Knox- Johnston, with his yacht Suhaili, become the first person to circumnavigate the world by yacht without a single stop.

Francis Chichester became the first man to circumnavigate the globe by boat with only a single stop on 28 May 1967. This was hailed as an incredible feat of human endurance and sailing but it set a new challenge. If Chichester had completed with only one stop could it be done without stopping?

Sir Francis Chichester [credit: en.wikipedia.org]
Several sailors began to prepare to take on this epic journey and The Sunday Times agreed to sponsor the 1968 Golden Globe Race, offering a trophy for the first yacht to circumnavigate the Globe and a £5,000 cash prize for the yacht that completed it the fastest. Nine men entered the competition, including: renowned French sailor and author Bernard Moitessier; Captain John Ridgway and Sergeant Chay Blyth, who had rowed together across the Atlantic in 1966; experienced Merchant Navy sailor Robin Knox -Johnston; and businessman Donald Crowhurst, who only had amateur sailing experience.

With the departure window set between 1 July and 31 October 1968 the entrants made their important preparations. Robin Knox-Johnston set sail from Falmouth on 14th July, to much media attention. Yet, it was Donald Crowhurst who would receive the lasting gaze of public attention. Crowhurst saw the race as an opportunity to get himself and his business out of financial difficulty. Without a boat he needed sponsorship, agreeing to mortgage his house and business to fund the building of a new boat which he believed would be fast enough to take him to victory. However, if he failed to finish the race his family home and business were to be taken as collateral.

Crowhurst was the last to leave on 31 October 1968 in a boat that had been rushed and with many of the final preparations still to be completed. Meanwhile, Knox-Johnston was making his way swiftly towards the Pacific Ocean with Moitessier not far behind and with Ridgway, Blyth & several other entrants already retired from the race.

crowhurst 3 imdb
Donald Crowhurst [credit: http://www.imdb.com]
Crowhurst had no chance of becoming first to circumnavigate but as he began to report impressive speeds it seemed likely to the British public that Crowhurst, the amateur and underdog, could become the fastest. All was not as it seemed.

It became clear to Crowhurst only a few weeks after he set sail that his boat would not survive the southern ocean nor did he have the experience to navigate it. To retire from the race meant certain financial ruin and he was left in a tough position, being continuously pushed by the pressure from his financial backers and his PR agent. He decided to fabricate his log entries and to make false daily reports of his position, hoping to appear to complete the race without being in the top three which would assure that he did not enter financial ruin and that his log books would not be carefully scrutinised upon his return.

Robin Knox-Johnston [credit: RobinKox-Johnston.com]
By February 1969 there where only three men left in the race. Knox-Johnston, Crowhurst and Naval officer Nigel Tetley. Knox-Johnston was to be the first man to circumnavigate the globe with much media attention and appraise on his arrival to Falmouth on 22 April 1969 – it was a triumph. Still, the race was not finished, with Tetley and Crowhurst battling it out to be the fastest around the globe. Tetley, believing the Crowhurst reports, pushed his boat too hard in a bid to secure his victory and sank 100 miles away from the finish line. Crowhurst was now set to become fastest around the world which meant publicity and scrutiny. Ten days after his final radio report, Crowhurst’s boat was found abandoned with no sign of it’s captain.

It will never be known what happened to Donald Crowhurst. Some believe he may have been thrown overboard during a storm; some believe that he succumbed to the immense pressure he was facing. Crowhurst was an ordinary man who chose to pursue an extraordinary dream, which ended in tragedy.

Robin Knox-Johnston would go on to receive a CBE for completing the extraordinary geographical challenge and he received the £5,000 reward for completing the race the fastest, which he to the Crowhurst family.


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