Golden Globe Yacht Race 2018 – A Yacht Race With A Difference

Post by: Dee White
27 March 2018

On 1 July 2018 a yacht race will start from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France. It is the 2018 Golden Globe Race and will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Sunday Times Golden Globe Race held in 1968-1969 and won by Great Britain’s Robin Knox-Johnston in his boat Suhaili. This was the very first round-the-world yacht race and it was non-stop and single-handed. It was also controversial, due to the failure of the majority of competitors to finish the race, but it was the forerunner of the popular and well known yacht races such as the BOC Challenge and the Vendee Globe.

Back to basics

For the 50th anniversary of the first race, entrants are limited to sailing similar yachts and equipment to those available in 1968, spurning modern technology and yacht design. While many recent races have struggled to raise numbers, this retro and potentially slow race has already gained 30 entries with another 150 or so expressing interest. It is open to a very narrow spectrum of yachts: they must be boats of 32 – 35ft, built to designs drawn before 1988, have a minimum displacement of 6,200kg and a long keel and rudder hung from the trailing edge of the keel. There must be no modifications to interior, mast height or boom length, nor may there be any light weight fittings or components, no electronic autopilots or instruments and no satellite based navigation aids, so skippers will have to navigate using sextant and paper charts. They will have to handwrite their logs and will be able to communicate only by long-range HF radio.

The 1968 race

The original race, sponsored by the British Sunday Times newspaper, was designed to capitalise on a number of individual round-the-world voyages which were already being planned by various sailors. There were no qualification requirements and competitors were allowed to start at any time between 1 June and 31 October 1968 and from different venues.  The Golden Globe trophy would be presented to the first person to complete an unassisted, non-stop, single-handed circumnavigation of the world via the great capes and a separate prize of £5,000 was offered for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation.

Nine sailors started the race and only one finished it, in a scenario of events that could be mistaken for a film script.

John Ridgway was the first to start from Inishmore on 1 June. He had little sailing experience but had rowed the Atlantic with Chay Blyth in 1966. Ridgeway’s boat was a 30ft weekend cruiser English Rose 1V, designed for cruising in protected waters rather than the hazards of the Southern Ocean.

Chay Blyth started on 8 June from Hamble on his boat Dytiscus 111, a 30ft sloop. He had no sailing experience which probably explains his choice of an unsuitable boat for the conditions ahead.  It was rigged for him by his friends who initially sailed in front of him in another boat to show him the correct manoeuvres.

Robin Knox-Johnston set sail from Falmouth on 14 June. He was a 28-year-old merchant marine officer and an experienced sailor. He relished the challenge of non-stop, single-handed circumnavigation and was determined that the first one should be British. His boat was a 32ft wooden ketch named Suhaili which he and some friends had built themselves in India. The sponsors of the race, the Sunday Times, felt that of all the competitors, Knox-Johnston in his small wooden ketch was the least likely to succeed. He eventually agreed sponsorship from the Sunday Mirror. His boat was crammed with tinned food, was low in the water and sluggish, but being a seaworthy boat she soon started gaining on the others.

Loick Fougeron was the 4th to set sail. He departed from Plymouth on 22 August. He was a Frenchman who managed a motorcycle company in Casablanca. His boat was a 30ft steel gaff cutter named Captain Browne.

Bernard Moitessier also set off from Plymouth on 22 August and was one of the most seriously considered contestants. His boat was a custom built 39ft steel ketch Joshua, named after the famous Joshua Slocum. He had had a wealth of sailing experience and had written 2 successful books recounting his voyages. He became disenchanted with the nature of his fame as an author and decided that a solo circumnavigation would be a new challenge.

Bill King who departed from Plymouth on 24 August, was a former Royal Navy submarine commander who had built a 42ft junk-rigger schooner, Galway Blazer II. It was designed for heavy conditions and he was able to secure sponsorship from the Express newspapers.

Nigel Tetley was a Royal Navy officer who decided that he would race his trimaran Victress on which he and his wife were living. His race started from Plymouth on 16 August.

Alex Carozzo a highly regarded Italian sailor, had not finished completing his boat by 31 October, so he sailed straight from Norfolk to a mooring in Cowes and finished preparing his boat without assistance.

Donald Crowhurst was also late in getting his boat Teignmouth Electron ready and her struggle to sail against headwinds resulted in a much delayed start. He finally got under way from Teignmouth on 31 October, the last allowable date for departure. He had not finished stowing his supplies and his self-righting system was unbuilt.

The race unfolds

Ridgeway soon realised that his boat was not up to a serious voyage and he was becoming affected by loneliness. On 17 June he arranged a rendezvous with a friend to drop off his photos and logs and he received some mail in exchange. This constituted technical disqualification for receiving assistance, but he dismissed this as pettiness and continued the race in bad spirits. The condition of his boat, however, was deteriorating and having decided it would not stand up to the onslaught of the Southern Ocean, he retired on 21 July in Recife, Brazil.

Blyth was well down the Atlantic by this time but was having problems with contaminated fuel for his generator. On 15 August he put into Tristan da Cunha and received help from an anchored cargo ship who repaired the generator and replenished his fuel supply. This counted as technical disqualification, but he decided to carry on as a personal quest to discover his own limits. He managed to get as far as East London, South Africa, but with his boat continuing to deteriorate, he eventually gave up, resolving to take on the challenge at a later date in a more suitable boat.

Carozzo’s race finished on 14 November after he was forced to put into Porto, Portugal for a medical emergency. He had started vomiting blood caused by a peptic ulcer. His was the 3rd retirement.

King and Fougeron had passed Tristan da Cunha, with King a few hundred nautical miles ahead, when they both encountered a severe storm. Fougeron hove-to but suffered a severe knock down, but King’s boat was rolled and lost her foremast. They both retired from the race on November 22nd and 27th.

Tetley had been suffering from the isolation and seclusion but by March he rounded Cape Horn, becoming the first to accomplish the feat in a multihull sailboat. He felt he had a chance of winning the prize for the fastest time, but after hearing a radio message from Crowhurst, it seemed as if he might be robbed of this. He was pushing his boat too hard and on May 20th he ran into a storm near the Azores which battered the boat to such an extent that the bow of the port hull broke off. The Victress was taking in water too rapidly, a Mayday was sent and before the vessel sank Tetley was rescued from his liferaft.

Moitessier was making excellent progress and good speed and it was predicted that he would arrive home on 24 April as the winner of the race. But as he contemplated the voyage back to Plymouth he realised he was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the race concept. The huge reception promised to him and even a Legion d’honneur, accentuated his disgust with the excesses of the modern world. He eventually, on 18 March, sent a message via a ship near the shore of Cape Town, announcing his decision to keep sailing past the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean for the second time and into the Pacific. His message stated, “Record is very stupid word at sea. I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea and perhaps because I want to save my soul”. On 21 June he sailed to Tahiti, having decided that both he and Joshua had had enough. Would he have won if he had completed the race? He thinks not, but it would certainly have been close. His book The Long Way tells the story of his voyage as a spiritual journey rather than a racing adventure.

Crowhurst had problems not only with his unsuitable boat, lack of sailing experience and financial problems at home. But in December he started reporting fast sailing including a new 24-hour record. People at home were sceptical of Crowhurst’s sudden change in fortune, and with good reason: on 6 December he had started creating a faked record of his voyage showing his position advancing much more quickly that it really was. It was an incredibly complex procedure, keeping two logs, one of which involved faking weather and sailing conditions and involving complex reverse navigation. His faked messages and reports convinced the press that he was a contender for the fastest time. Virtually guaranteed the £5,000 prize he turned north and began to limp northwards but as he was bombarded with news of the rapturous welcome he would have, the syndication rights and the welcoming fleet of boats and helicopters, it became clear that he could no longer avoid the spotlight and cover up the truth about his faked voyage. His mind gradually drifted further from reality as his boat limped slowly northwards until, on 1 July, he wrote a garbled suicide note after which, it is assumed, he jumped overboard.

Knox-Johnston was an experienced seaman and was enjoying the sailing, but his boat began to show the strain of the long and hard voyage. He managed to repair his initial leaks by diving and caulking the seams underwater, but by November his self-steering gear had failed for the last time and he was out of spares. Suhaili developed more leaks and the rudder was loose. He believed that the boat was fundamentally sound however and pressed on. By January concerns were growing; he was having problems with his radio transmitter and nothing had been heard since 19th November when he was of the Southern Coast of New Zealand. He was actually making good progress and rounded Cape Horn on 17th January, but concern was growing and an aircraft taking part in a NATO exercise in the North Atlantic, mounted a search for him in the Azores region. On 6th April he eventually managed to make contact with a British tanker using his signal lamp and reported his position as 1,200 nautical miles from home. This news caused excitement in Britain with Knox-Johnston clearly set to win the Golden Globe Trophy and Tetley predicted to win the £5,000 prize for the fastest time.

On 22nd April Knox-Johnston completed his voyage where he’d started it, at Falmouth. He was the winner of the Golden Globe Trophy and the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. He had achieved this in 312 days.This left Tetley and Crowhurst, who were still sailing, apparently fighting for the £5,000 prize for the fastest time, but after the sad events which overtook both of them, Knox-Johnston was awarded both prizes as the only contestant to finish the race. Knox-Johnston actually donated his prize money to a fund set up to support Crowhurst’s family.

The 2018 Race

It will be fascinating to watch the progress of this iconic race. (Watch this space for more information as the race evolves).  Let us hope that it will be interesting and exciting but without the tragedies which hounded the original Golden Globe.