Knox-Johnston completes first solo non stop voyage around the world
On June 14 1968 nine men set out on the Times Golden Globe Yacht Race. Only one finished. William Robert Pat “Robin” Knox-Johnston completed his solo non-stop round the world voyage in 312 days, landing back in Falmouth , where the race had started, on April 22 1969, in so doing becoming the first man to circumnavigate the globe alone, without stopping – Sir Francis Chichester had at the age of 65 completed the solo circumnavigation with stops two years previously.
Knox-Johnston ’s feat belongs to a different era in more ways than one.
His boat, the Suhaili, was a 32-foot teak-built Bermudan Ketch, net tonnage 6.29, started in Bombay while Knox-Johnston was in the merchant navy plying a regular route between Bombay and Basra.
Technology did not play a huge part in the mariner’s feat. The Suhaili, started in 1963, was built to a 1923 design by William Atkins in turn based on Colin Archer’s earlier designs for Norwegian Lifeboats. Early on in the epic voyage the Suhaili’s radio ceased to function, so between chance meetings with ships on the ocean he was out of contact with the world for months at times. He was not heard from for so long that The Times prepared his obituary pending confirmation of his death. And in 1968 there was no GPS to navigate for him – Knox-Johnston, who joined the merchant marine in 1957 aged 18, spent two hours a day operating a sextant to give his position.
The Suhaili averaged just 4 knots on the voyage, and managed a top speed of 7, in spite of which it rounded Cape Horn twenty days ahead of Knox-Johnston’s nearest rival, race-favourite Bernard Moitessier. The voyage took so long that Knox-Johnston had to collect rain from a bucket to give him drinking water.
In a stark contrast to his 1968-69 voyage, in 1994 Knox-Johnston and New Zealander Sir Peter Blake managed the trip in 74 days to win the Jules Verne Trophy in a catamaran. A year later the Briton, already given the CBE for his achievements, was knighted. Not content to relax in his later years, Knox-Johnston completed the solo-circumnavigation again in 2007, finishing 4th in the Velux 5 Oceans Race when he stepped ashore on May 4, his boat roughly the same weight as Suhaili, but about twice the length thanks to modern materials, and managing half the time of the 1969 epic.
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