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Sir Robin reflects on record-breaking circumnavigation on 44th Anniversary

22 APR 2013

Sir Robin reflects on record-breaking circumnavigation on 44th Anniversary

Sir Robin reflects on record-breaking circumnavigation on 44th Anniversary

Clipper Race chairman and sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is today celebrating the 44th anniversary of his record-breaking circumnavigation.

On 22 April 1969, Sir Robin arrived in Falmouth, UK after spending ten and a half months racing around the world as part of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

Today Sir Robin reflects on that historic day 44 years ago:

“The night of the 21 April 1969 was not a restful one for me. I was heading in towards the Lizard, aiming to round it at daybreak on the 22 April, but my route was seriously busy with a couple of hundred French fishing boats square dancing across my path. Half of Brittany seemed to be at sea off the Cornish coast.

“The last couple of days had been busy with boats full of journalists appearing from all directions and demanding comments, a huge contrast to the solitude of the previous 310 days. At times I began to wonder whether I should not turn round and slip away and carry on being what I had become after ten and a half months alone: a creature of the sea with no need for other human company.   

“The night was a long one. I did not dare sleep in case a fishing boat misread my paraffin pressure lamp, which was the only navigation light I had left working. Fortunately I had two faithful escorts: Fathomer with my friends aboard, and Queen of the Isles, the Scilly ferry charted by a newspaper. Both kept close to discourage the fishing fleet.

“At daybreak I was off the Lizard and was asked when I thought I would cross the finish line off Black Rock Beacon in Falmouth. The wind was fair and 0900 seemed a sensible ETA.  But this created a problem I could not have imagined. A boat closed in and yelled would I slow up please as the Mayor and Mayoress were going to meet me and the Mayoress had a hairdressers’ appointment for 0900.

“I remonstrated.  All I wanted was a cigarette (I had run out 40 days before – its will power really!) a pint of bitter, a steak, (I had lived off tinned food for the whole voyage and wanted something I could chew) and a bath, in that order.

“But after all this time away from fellow humans, and as I approached the end, I was losing my usual aggressive response to any threat and I slowed down.

“It was a disastrous mistake.  At 0730 a front came through, no forecasts in those days, all I had was a barometer I had stolen from a pub.   

Suhaili does not beat to windward well (neither does her owner!) and the wind was now blowing directly from Falmouth Harbour. The Mayoress had all the time she wanted for her hair appointment, in fact too much, as I did not cross the finish line until 1525 in the afternoon of 22 April, by which time her hair do had been blown away. 

“I was tired after two days without sleep but now exhilarated at the thought of getting home. I managed to avoid contact (except with the BBC launch) with the fleet of boats that had come out to escort me in and headed for the finish.

“But as I crossed the finish line at the entrance to Falmouth Harbour, which I had last passed on the 14 June 1968, a large Customs launch came alongside and two immaculate Customs Officers jumped aboard my poor battered little boat and gave the usual greeting. “Good afternoon Captain” they said, “Where from?”

“There was only one answer “Falmouth!” I responded.