Fifty Years Since Record-Breaking Race Began

13 June 2018

At 13:45 on June 14, 1968, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston bid farewell to his parents and the comforts of land, not knowing when he would see either again. As has been well told over the years, it would be an incredible 312 days before his return which cemented him in the history books as the winner of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, making him the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world.

Sir Robin and Suhaili, his 32 foot ketch and well-loved partner in that voyage, are back in Falmouth this week to mark half a century since their legendary journey which captivated the world and eventually led him to found the Clipper Race which opened up the experience of circumnavigation to everyday adventurers.

Arriving to Falmouth Haven Marina, welcomed by members of the media and competitors who are preparing to take part in the tribute edition of the Golden Globe race, Sir Robin reported: “It feels good to be back. It’s a bit of a different place to how I remember it though of course. There was no marina then so I was out on a mooring.”

IMAGE: Sir Robin in 1968 with the food for his Golden Globe Race. © Bill Rowntree / PPL

On the Golden Globe Race, he adds: “There are a great collection of boats for this race and an even greater group of sailors. Many people are asking if I’m tempted to go around with them again. The answer is no as I’ve been there and done the journey four times now. I’m sure once I’m on the start line I’ll feel slightly envious but it’s their turn this time now. I’m going to enjoy following it all instead.”

Sir Robin faced many challenges during his 30,000 mile journey at sea. From storms and mountainous waves which threatened to de-mast his yacht, a shark who got too close during some boat repairs whilst he was in the water, to spending seven months of his journey being unable to communicate with anyone due to a broken radio during which time many, including his family, feared he might be lost at sea.

Asked whether he ever felt like giving up during the eleven-month challenge, Sir Robin, who had wanted to go to sea since the age of eight and was an experienced merchant navy officer, responds: “No. I couldn’t let down the me that had got to yesterday. You can’t let yourself down when you think like that.”

IMAGE: Sir Robin bidding his parents farewell in Falmouth in 1968. © Bill Rowntree / PPL

Whilst current day sailors have satellite technology which allows them to be constantly connected to those on land, Sir Robin’s radio, his only contact, malfunctioned within two months of his voyage. It wasn’t until he was off the shores of New Zealand that he learnt he was one of only four participants still competing. His next contact with the outside world came just off the Azores, when he was able to successfully communicate a message to Falmouth to say that he would be returning within the next two weeks.

18 competitors have entered the tribute Golden Globe Race. Celebrations start with a Parade of Sail around Falmouth Harbour later today, led by Sir Robin and Suhaili.

IMAGE: Sir Robin departing Famouth in 1968 to begin his Golden Globe Race. © Bill Rowntree / PPL

The 2018 Golden Globe is designed to take competitors back to the ‘Golden Age’ of sailing so all entrants are strictly required only to use the same type, or similar, equipment and technology that was carried on board by Sir Robin fifty years ago, meaning they too will have minimal contact with the outside world for the duration of the journey.

On what he thinks will be the toughest about the challenge, Sir Robin says: “Aside from the conditions, I believe the hardest part for these sailors will be the deprivation of communication. Fifty years ago we didn’t have the connectivity that people today are used to – the emails, computers, smart phones and social media. We’re so dependent on being connected to one another now, they have more to lose in that way than I did.”

Sir Robin’s legendary feat in 1968-69 of course laid the foundation for the Clipper Race, of which he says: “Every time I meet someone on the Clipper Race who tells me they did it because they were inspired by my journey, it makes me feel it was all worth it. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built and the experiences the Clipper Race has given to people from around the world.”

BBC Newschannel is running an anniversary documentary on Sir Robin this weekend in celebration of his achievement. Watch it at 2130 on Friday, 1330 or 2030 on Saturday or 0030 or 1030 on Sunday. You can also listen via podcast online at H20 podcast.

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