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1968-69 Suhaili - The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race
In 1968 the British newspaper The Sunday Times announced the award of a trophy, the Golden Globe, for the first person to sail single handed and non-stop around the world. The longest non-stop voyage until then was achieved by Sir Francis Chichester in 1966-67, when he circumnavigated the world with one stop in Australia. His boat had needed a major re-fit halfway, and no one was certain a yacht could be kept serviceable for 30,000 miles, let alone survive the conditions to be expected, nor whether a human could keep going that long alone. Nevertheless, a solo non-stop circumnavigation was the one great voyage left to be made. On returning to the UK from India in Suhaili RKJ went back to sea as 1st Officer on the liner “Kenya” Suhaili was laid up at Benfleet and put up for sale. However Chichester’s voyage planted the seed for a non stop attempt. Efforts to find a sponsor for a Colin Mudie designed 56 foot steel yacht failed, but by this time the idea and become an obsession. “Suhaili” was withdrawn from the market and a sponsor sought. The Golden Globe Trophy An approach to The Sunday Times lead to their refusal, but they subsequently announced the Golden Globe and that RKJ was an entrant! In all, there were 9 entrants, but because small boats sail slower than big ones, each planned to depart to suit their own schedule, and The Sunday Times was forced to announce that the start time could be between 1st June and 31st October 1968. They also announced that the Golden Globe would be awarded to the first to complete the voyage starting in the British isles and finishing in the same port, and £5,000 would be warded to the person who made the fastest voyage. Fully loaded, (see picture of half the rations on board right), Suhaili sailed from Falmouth on 14th June 1968, the third to depart. Progress was slow initially as RKJ was recovering from an attack of jaundice. By the time she passed the Cape of Good Hope she was in the lead, but had already been knocked down, her coach roof shifted, her water tanks polluted and her radio out of action. For the next 8 ½ months the only contact was when sighted from the shore or by a solitary ship. There was no means of communication and no way to tell anyone if the boat got into trouble, as with beacons or EPIRB’s in those pre-satellite days. The loss of the radio also gave a navigational problem as it was no longer possible to obtain time checks, and accurate time is essential when using a sextant to calculate position, which was all that was available then. Weather forecasts too were now unobtainable, reliance being placed on a barometer removed from a public house, the clouds and the wind direction, but this did not help to warn of deeper storms as they approached. More storms followed as Suhaili made her way through the Southern Ocean, sails were torn, the main gooseneck broke and off Australia her self steering finally gave up the ghost. From then on the boat had to be balanced or hand steered. After 147 days at sea she approached the pilot vessel off Melbourne to announce that she was still racing and drop off mail. A brief call off Dunedin, and grounding for 5 hours, and the she continued towards Cape Horn. It was during a storm which reached Force 12, and after another knockdown, that the efficiency of warps being towed behind the boat was discovered and she rode the largest of waves thereafter in comparative safety. The waves in the Southern Ocean are the largest to be found anywhere in the world. In theory they can reach more than 30 metres in height, but the largest seen during the voyage was, perhaps, 25 metres high, but it had built up into a wall, breaking at the crest. RKJ was on deck as it suddenly reared up half a mile astern, and by the time its true proportions were clear it was too late to seek shelter below. He climbed the rigging and hung on as the stern reared up and the wave crashed over the boat. For what seemed an eternity there was nothing in sight but two masts and boiling water and then Suhaili shook herself and re-appeared. Without the warps she would have broached and been viciously rolled and possibly foundered. The Horn was rounded on 17th January 1969. Bernard Moitessier, now his closest competitor, rounded the famous Cape on the 6th February, 20 days later. He was favourite to win the prize money for the fastest circumnavigation, but admitted himself that he doubted he could have caught up with Suhaili before she reached home. In the event he withdrew from the race after the Horn and sailed on to Tahiti. Suhaili was now on the home straight with just a ¼ of the circumnavigation left to complete, but an attack of appendicitis as she crossed the Equator nearly finished the voyage. On Saturday the 5th April 1969 she called a British Tanker with a signal lamp, the “Mobil Acme” and reported her position off the Azores, the first news for more than 4 ½ months. She sailed into Falmouth Harbour on 22nd April 1969 to be greeted by the Customs Officials with the traditional demand of “Where from” The single word answer was “Falmouth” She arrived, battered, after 312 days at sea, having become the first boat to ever be sailed non-stop around the world and single handed, and, up to then, the lengthiest voyage ever made. Competitors in the Golden Globe Race Name Boat LOA Start Finished/Retired John Ridgeway English Rose 32 ft 1st Jun '68 Retired 21st July Recife Chay Blyth Dytiscus 111 30 ft 8th Jun '68 Retired15th Aug. Tristran da Cunha Robin Knox-Johnston Suhaili 32ft 14th Jun '68 Finished, Falmouth, 22nd April 1969 Bernard Moitessier Joshua 40ft 22nd Aug ’68 Retired from the race Cape Town 18th March ’69, but continued non-stop to Tahiti. Loick Fougeron Captain Browne 30ft 22nd Aug ’68 Retired 27th Nov ’68 St Helena Bill King Galway Blazer 42ft 24th Aug ’68 Retired 22nd Nov ’68 Cape Town Nigel Tetley Music for Pleasure 40ft 16th Sept ’68 Foundered off the Azores when nearly home May 1969 Alex Caruzzo Gancia Americana 66ft 31st Oct ’68 Retired, ill, mid November ‘68 Lisbon. Donald Crowhurst Teignmouth Electron 40ft 31st Oct ’68 Disqualified 6th March 1969 Jumped into the sea, 1st July 1969 Solo Circumnavigators from Slocum to 2003 A list of all solo circumnavigators from Slocum onwards. Books “ World of my Own” RKJ, Cassel UK, republished 2003 Adlard Coles. “A World of my Own” RKJ, Norton USA “La Course au Monde” RKJ, Editions Arthaud – France. 1970 “Trimaran Solo” Nigel Tetley, Nautical Publishing. 1970 “The strange last voyage of Donald Crowhurst” Tomalin & Hall, Adlard Coles 1995. “Capsize” Bill King, Nautical Publishing 1969 “Innocent Aboard” Chay & Maureen Blyth, Nautical Publishing 1970 “The Longest Race” Hal Roth Norton NY 1983 “A Voyage for Madmen” Peter Nichols, Profile Books, UK, 2001.
© Copyright 2014 Sir Robin Knox-Johnston