The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm




- 26 -

Only Super Heroes Need Apply

          The salute for Chichester is for achievement,
          yes, for tenacity, courage, self-dedication, all
          that. But there is something more.(1)

cosmical convulsion in science, super-politics, war and peace, and
social upheaval. The most costly and miserable undeclared war in
modern history in Southeast Asia touched in some way every living
soul in every corner of the globe, and ground relentlessly and frus-
tratingly upon their hopes, aspirations, goals, and personal liberties.
The news media, now augmented by omnipotent television, brought
instant crises into every home equipped with electric power (even if
only batteries and transistors), until viewers and listeners were sur-
feited with the extraordinary and the unbelievable. Even when Neil
Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module Eagle on JulY 20,1969,
and announced to an audience 96 million miles away, "One small
step for man, one giant leap for mankind," effete network commen-
tators remarked sneeringly that Armstrong's epigram writer was
slightly cornball.
  People everywhere desperately needed something personal to be-
lieve in, and they did not even trust themselves.
  Then, in the middle of this decade, appeared the ultimate diver-
sion, the epitome of useless and unproductive effort: the single-

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handed around-the-world race in a wind-driven yacht. Because it was
so expensive, so exquisitely unnecessary, it appealed to the perverse
side of human instinct, not because of the competitive aspects
(Damon Runyon once described a yacht race as being as exciting as
watching the grass grow), but perhaps because it was merely one man
doing his thing and accepting a challenge he did not have to.
  But almost no one was prepared for what happened when an aging
stunter named Francis Chichester arrived back home at Plymouth,
England, after having sailed alone around the world on the old
clipper route via the three capes Good Hope, Leeuwin, and Horn 
in his 54-foot, specially-designed Gipsy Moth IV. It was estimated
that a quarter of a million cheering people were present to watch him
finish, including the Queen and her court, there to dub him Sir
Francis on the spot. No one was more astonished at the reception
than old Chichester himself. In a lifetime of attempting spectacular
achievements mostly in the ancient and lovable old airplane known
as the Gipsy Moth no one had taken him very seriously.
  This time, there was even less reason for all the fuss. After all, his
trip around the world, even with just one stop, was nothing new.
Hundreds of yachts had sailed around the world, most of them
anonymously, in the three-quarters of a century since Captain Joshua
Slocum showed them how. It had been proved time and again that
any well-founded small boat could do it safely.
  Not that there was not a precedent for the super-hero response to
this episode. Down through history, people have (for reasons behav-
iorists have not yet discovered) inexplicably, spontaneously, and
convulsively seized upon the individual of the hour and elevated him
to a pedestal of adoration. Charles Lindbergh was one of these,
Wrong-Way Corrigan was another, and Sir Edmund Hillary still
another of recent times.
  Of Chichester's feat, London Times staffers Ron Hall and
Nicholas Tomalin wrote: "American news magazine essayists, puz-
zled as always by British reflexes, attempted lengthy explanations of
the phenomenon: with the Empire gone and no money to send men
to the moon, British reverted to the nobler, uncomplicated heroism
of conquering the elements . . . (but) the public's response was
scarcely as simple as that."(2)
  I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to find the sources of such refer-
ences in American news magazines. Indeed, Time magazine's com-
ment was entirely different: "Sir Francis Chichester has managed to
reawaken the world to one man's capacity to seek and to endure. He

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has served men by living their dreams of acting with tenacity and
courage under pressure. And in this he has become a genuine hero 
perhaps the greatest of the adventurers of his time."
  Although Time's summary of Chichester was more accurate than
the gratuitous reference to American essayists made by Hall and
Tomalin, there is much evidence that the spontaneous British re-
sponse was, in fact, psychologically rooted in rebellion to Great
Britain's lesser role in the post-World War II world, a fact which
Hall and Tomalin tried hard not to recognize.(3)
  In any case, Chichester's voyage not only renewed the secret
dreams of thousands of people who led lives of quiet desperation, but
inspired hundreds to duplicate or surpass his feat; and not only
people in England, but in every part of the world, including behind
the Iron Curtain.
  The Sunday Times, which had belatedly become a sponsor of
Chichester's stunt, found itself the recipient of one of the greatest
newspaper promotional bargains of the century. Now the Times had
become receptive to future stunts of this kind. This was especially
true after Harold Evans, the Sunday Times executive who had sensed
the importance of Chichester's voyage, became editor of the news-
  In January 1968, the well-known press agent George Greenfield,
who had managed his client, Francis Chichester, with so much
success, was now looking for another bombshell. He thought he had
it in a young, clean-cut, refreshingly handsome and easy-going mer-
chant marine officer named Robin Knox-Johnston. Greenfield ap-
proached Harold Evans about it, and a month later, Murray Sayle,
who had covered the Chichester story, was assigned to background
the new proposal, which was a nonstop around-the-world contest.
After all, this was about the only stunt that had not yet been done.(4)
  Sayle, during his investigation, learned to his surprise that literally
dozens of erstwhile circumnavigators were already planning trips.
These included not only Knox-Johnston, in his "scruffy little ketch,"
but one who was the favorite of everyone to win if there was a
contest an Australian dentist known as Tahiti Bill Howell, in a cata-
maran. On Sayle's recommendation, the Times set Knox-Johnston
aside and began to cover the more colorful Australian.
  Next, Ron Hall, one of the authors of the Crowhurst book and
Sayle's superior, came up with the idea of holding a race, instead of a
contest, with the prize going to the one making the fastest circum-
navigation. After much discussion and argument, the final form,

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which was drafted in March 1968, became the Times "Golden Globe
Race," in which there would be two prizes one a trophy for the first
to finish, and the other a �5,000 cash award to the fastest. The
awards were not as incompatible as they appeared at first glance. The
start of the race was not to be a "racehorse" getaway. The yachts
would be racing against the clock, not each other. A fast boat, start- 
ing late, could obviously finish last and still win on fastest time. 
 By this time, at least a dozen serious contenders were already
building or rebuilding boats to enter. To discourage the irresponsible,
the Sunday Times wisely adopted a plan that was similar to the
famous Northcliffe prizes in the age of air pioneering. To get around
numerous complications, it was stipulated that anybody was eligible.
As one writer described it, "It is rather like a horse setting off for a
canter across Epsom Downs and suddenly finding itself taking part in
the Derby." Anyone who left alone from any port north of 40�N
latitude (to encourage French participation), starting between June
1 and October 31, 1968, and returning to Plymouth, was entered
whether he knew it or not.
 No route was specified, but since it is possible to sail around
nonstop by only one route the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn 
this did- not need to be spelled out. The Sunday Times publicly
announced the race on March 17, 1968. Within a matter of days
came the first official entry, Donald Crowhurst, an electronics manu-
facturer, in a Piver-designed trimaran. The erratic Crowhurst had first
attempted to obtain Chichester's Gipsy Moth IV, but then turned to
the trimaran design. Crowhurst claimed with some justification that
he had been the originator of the nonstop race around the world.
 Others who were well along in their own plans included an ex-
submarine commander, twice winner of the D.S.O., Bill Leslie King,
who had teamed up with Colonel H. G. (Blondie) Hasler, inventor
of the self-steering vane, and designer Angus Primrose, on a radical
design named Galway Blazer II a junk-rigged, submarine-like yacht
of extremely light displacement. Galway Blazer II was displayed at
the London Boat Show in January 1968, at which time it had been
announced that King already had two sponsors the Daily and
Sunday Express.
 The previous April, even before Chichester had made his trium-
phant return, Robin Knox-Johnston had been discussing designs with
Colin Mudie, the well-known bluewater sailor and yacht designer.5
But Robin could not raise the necessary funds or sponsorship, and
had to fall back on his home-built Colin Archer type, the 32-foot

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ketch Suhaili, which he had brought around from India. This
clumsy vessel was considered by all, including Knox-Johnston, as
being the least likely to win.
  It was at this point that the young merchant marine had sought
out George Greenfield, the literary agent and publicist, in an effort to
raise money with an advance on a book to be written about his
voyage from India to Britain. Greenfield instantly saw bigger things
in store for Knox-Johnston.
  As Hall and Tomalin wrote later, "His [Knox-Johnston's] judg-
ment was impeccable always. Throughout the project, he had an
uncanny gift for saying and doing the right thing not the least of
which was actually completing the voyage."
  Another early entry was the famed French-colonial navigator,
Bernard Moitessier, who was already a legend among bluewater
yachtsmen, and considered the greatest singlehander of them all. He
would be sailing his steel ketch, Joshua, in which he had already
made a spectacular voyage around Cape Horn. Moitessier had been
planning a circumnavigation as early as 1966. In the January 1967
Boat Show in Paris, he announced detailed plans. Then he went to
Toulon to begin months of refitting and reconditioning the vessel,
now five years old but a tough, proven yacht that had been tested on
the wildest oceans in the world.
  At the end of 1967, John Ridgway, a captain in the British Special
Air Services who had achieved fame of sorts with his sergeant, Chay
Blyth, by rowing across the Atlantic, got leave of absence and
announced his plans to sail English Rose IV nonstop around the
world. English Rose was only 30 feet overall, but compared to a
rowboat, she was a veritable Queen Mary.
  The Sunday Times assembled a prestigious panel of judges to make
sure the voyages were properly completed without touching port and
without outside assistance (and to use their influence to dissuade the
irresponsible from entering, such as the young man in a skiff from the
Outer Hebrides who could only be restrained by a court order).
Chairman of the panel was none other than Sir Francis Chichester.
Other members were: Michel Richey, executive secretary of the In-
stitute of Navigation; M. Alain Gliksman, editor of Neptune
Nautisme, and a respected French yachtsman; Denis Hamilton, chief
executive and editor-in-chief of the Times newspaper, and Colonel
Blondie Hasler.
  Other entries coming in were Loick Fougeron, a well-known
French voyager, with a steel-hulled yacht; Commander Nigel Tetley,

    ~ 249 ~

a South African and British naval officer, in Victress, a Piver tri-
maran, which had been the home of Tetley and his wife for some
time; and Chay Blyth, Captain Ridgway's companion on the trans-
atlantic stunt, who entered Dytiscus, a 30-footer.
  Tahiti Bill Howell did so badly with his catamaran in the Observer
Singlehanded Transatlantic Race that he withdrew from the Golden
  Crowhurst modified his Victress-class trimaran extensively and
named it Teignmouth Electron.
  Another Frenchman, Yves Wallerand, announced plans to enter,
but never showed up and no one ever heard from him again.
  There were, finally, 10 starters in the Times Golden Globe Race.
One of them, Alex P. Carrozzo, who was dubbed "Last-Minute
Alex," built his 66-foot ketch, Glancia Americano, in a record six
weeks before the deadline. After starting the race officially, he re-
mained at Plymouth harbor for another week to complete work on
the boat. Alex, a big, bearded man, 6 foot 6 inches tall, collapsed with
a bleeding ulcer brought on by the pressure, but departed anyway. He
later had a relapse, got medical aid by radio, and finally put in at
Lisbon with the help of the Portuguese Navy.
  Loick Fougeron, in his 30-foot cutter Capitaine Brown, encoun-
tered a hurricane in the South Atlantic and had to seek shelter at St.
Helena, where he anchored at Jamestown harbor on November 28.
  Bill Leslie King, caught on the fringes of the same hurricane, was
capsized south of the Cape of Good Hope and dismasted. He limped
into Cape Town, out of the race.
  John Ridgway, after ninety-two days at sea, put into Recife for
repairs, and he was out of it.
    Chay Blyth sailed nonstop for nine thousand miles, but was 
defeated by the monstrous waves south of the tip of Africa, and
decided to put in at Port Elizabeth. His wife, Maureen, flew out from
England and together they sailed Dytiscus back home.
  Nigel Tetley, on his trimaran, made an almost flawless circumnavi-
gation and crossed his outbound track near the Azores on the way
home, to be technically if not legally the first to complete the voyage
around (also in the fastest time). But, misled by the false reports
sent out by Donald Crowhurst on the other trimaran, Tetley pushed
his craft too hard, stove in one of the hulls, and barely had time to
get off an S.O.S. before sinking. He was picked up soon after, having
lost the race, his yacht, and his home.
  Within sight of victory, the unpredictable Frenchman, Bernard

   ~ 249 ~

Moitessier, crossed his outbound track and then inexplicably broke
off the race and headed eastward on a second nonstop circumnaviga-
tion, hoping to find his soul.
  The English-colonial and erratic electronic genius, Donald Crow-
hurst, who had claimed to have originated the Golden Globe Race,
and schemed to win it by cheating, continued his aimless wandering
around the South Atlantic, putting ashore once at an obscure Argen-
tine village for repairs, for a total of 243 days and an estimated 16,591
miles, sending in false radio messages and position reports according
to a pre-planned schedule.
  On July 10, 1969, at 7:50 A.M., Captain Richard Box, master of the
Royal Mail vessel Picardy, bound for London from the Caribbean,
was roused from his bunk by lookouts who had sighted a sailing
yacht, apparently with no one aboard, ghosting alone at two knots
with only the mizzen set. He stopped the ship to investigate, finding
the trimaran in good condition, but like another ghost ship, the Marie
Celeste, mysteriously abandoned. Donald Crowhurst, who had
schemed to win the Times Golden Globe by fraudulent means, had
succeeded only in destroying first his mind and then himself. The
whole sordid story was left for others to reconstruct later from his
logs and personal journal.                       
  Robin Knox-Johnston, who had not been heard from since No-
vember 21, reappeared on Easter morning off the Azores. After 312
days at sea, the bearded but otherwise healthy young merchant
seaman sailed into Plymouth the winner of both prizes. The least
likely to even finish, in his "scruffy little ketch," Knox-Johnston
became a real live bluewater tortoise who had through dogged British
determination defeated all the more glamorous hares.

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 - end Chapter 26 -

To Chapter 27.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Twenty-six 1. J. R. L. Anderson in the epilogue to Sir Francis Chichester's The Lonely Sea and the Sky (New York: Coward-McCann, 1964) 2. The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall (New York: Stein and Day Publishers 1970). 3. In his book, Robin Knox-Johnston remarks, 'If I was not to be first, then it must be a Briton." Another stunter, John Fairfax, who rowed across both the Atlantic and the Pacific in an Uffa Fox designed rowboat, re- marked at the completion of the voyage that he would donate his boat to any- one, as long as it was a Briton. That nationalistic pride motivated most of the entrants is pretty obvious. 4. Later, one of the Golden Globe entrants, Chay Blyth, conceived the idea for a "wrong way" nonstop circumnavigation, west-about against pre- vailing winds of the southern latitudes. 5. See Two Against the Western Ocean by Patrick Elam and Colin Mudie.

To Chapter 27.

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