A salute to Robin Knox-Johnston
A truly extraordinary seafarer, but also ordinary
On April 22, 1969, Robin Knox-Johnston (now known as Sir Robin) completed the first ever solo, non-stop, round-the-world sailboat race, the event that is now known as the Vendée Globe. In fact, he was the only competitor to complete that first race.
In celebration of that feat, Adam of Messing About in Sailboats has proposed that today be Robin Knox-Johnston Day on the Internet, and he has requested that other bloggers create posts with their own takes on the sailor and his accomplishment.
In some ways, it is hard for me to come up with anything to say that hasn't already been said better by someone else. However, many of the visitors to this blog are not sailors, so I'll try to fill in some background to allow readers to see just how special RKJ's feat was.
The race began in 1968, a scheme derided by many as scatter-brained. At that point, nobody had ever completed a solo, non-stop circumnavigation in a sailboat, and to make such a journey the goal of a race just seemed crazy. Technology back then was primitive – no satellites, no GPS, no computers, no radar, no weather-fax, no Internet. Fiberglass was in its infancy, so most boats were made of wood, including RKJ's Suhaili, which had actually been built in 1923 and was not designed to go fast. It took him 313 days to complete the race.
Among the general public, the consensus was that the race was crazy, and that anyone who chose to participate in it was crazy. In fact, some of the other racers did prove to be something other than perfectly sane. One, Donald Crowhurst, started sailing in circles in the middle of the Atlantic, radioing in fake position reports to make it seem as if he were making progress, and then, apparently in despair at the prospect of getting caught, committed suicide. Another racer, Bernard Moitessier, decided not to finish the race and just kept on sailing; he went around the globe nearly two more times before stopping.
RKJ, on the other hand, calmly went about the business of sailing the boat, maintaining a regular daily routine, using the discipline he had learned in the Royal Navy. It almost seemed that he wasn't up to anything unusual, and nothing seemed to ruffle him. When storms came up, he trusted the solidly built Suhaili to stay afloat, and she did. He maintained the calm and businesslike manner that seems somehow to be quintessentially British, the ability to get the job done, no matter what, and without making a big fuss about it.
In a race that was itself deemed crazy, and in which participation was seen as a sign of insanity, RKJ was, in the words of a reporter who interviewed him after the race, "almost depressingly normal."
Sir Robin has since become one of Britain's, and the world's, most well known figures in sailing. He's still active in the sport, and he has spent much time promoting and improving sailing and sailboat racing.
In honor of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Scuttlebutt is recommending a salute with a single-malt Scotch whiskey, a libation of which RKJ is particularly fond. I am making such a salute, and I recommend that all of my readers do likewise.