Please select your home edition
Edition
Clipper Ventures
JOIN THE RACE JOIN THE 2019-20 RACE MAGAZINE DOWNLOAD THE OFFICIAL SOUVENIR RACE MAGAZINE Check out the latest photo galleries from The Clipper Race
UNICEF ABOUT UNICEF

Sailor's salute Sir Robin on 50 year anniversary of Golden Globe victory

by Clipper Round the World 22 Apr 10:00 BST 22 April 2019
Sir Robin pictured in 1969 crossing the finish line in Golden Globe Race © Bill Rowntree / PPL Media

Britain's leading sailors are paying tribute to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston today on the 50th anniversary of the date, 22 April 1969, that he entered history books as the first person to ever sail solo, non-stop around the world.

"To me, Sir Robin is an iconic figure and one of the greatest sailors to ever set foot in a boat." Said Sir Ben Ainslie, Britain's most decorated Olympic sailor, during filming for a documentary about the achievement, which took place in the same year of the first moon landing.

Sir Ben added: "The Golden Globe and Sir Robin Knox Johnston's amazing triumph against the rest of the world, winning for Britain, was an amazing feat of seamanship and something that will never be forgotten."

Sir Robin and his 32-ft yacht from that voyage, Suhaili, which has been lovingly hand-restored, along with a support flotilla, are heading back to the same spot on the water in Falmouth Harbour today to re-create the exact time, 1525, when he crossed the finish line of The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and returned home to scenes of national jubilation after 312 days alone at sea.

Leading round the world yachtswoman Dee Caffari commented: "We often talk about the achievement of being the first man on the moon, and I think you can make a very similar comparison to Sir Robin for sailing around the world. He created that first non-stop sail that nobody thought was possible. It hadn't been done until he completed it and he laid that pathway for all of us to follow."

Inspired by Sir Francis Chichester, who had sailed around the world but had stopped in Australia, there was one achievement left in Robin's mind; to be first to go solo, non-stop. He faced huge challenges in his quest to complete the unknown. Not only during the journey itself but also from sceptics. Could it actually be done? Would the boat hold up? Wouldn't you go mad? How long would it take? Was Robin the man to achieve this feat?

A real-life story of the underdog, he received no sponsorship other than 120 cans of Tennants beer and a £5 Cadbury voucher. When he set sail from Falmouth on 14 June 1968, aged 29, he had jaundice but hid it as he feared he would have been stopped from going. Before the days of GPS satellite technology, he had only the same navigational tools as Captain Cook; the stars and a sextant. He had to fix a leak in the side of his yacht in shark infested waters, and not too far into his journey, he lost his freshwater tanks when his boat was knocked down by a wave, leaving him having to catch rainwater in his sails to survive.

Later, Robin lost all contact after his radio broke, and was presumed lost at sea for over four months before being reported alive by a British tanker just weeks from the finish line. He was also crippled with stomach pain in the latter stages and years later found out his appendix had likely burst, but still he carried on, dedicated to his mission. He also famously never officially entered the race, but the Sunday Times built the entry rules around his plans.

Of the nine people who set out in quest of becoming the first to circumnavigate solo, non-stop, the sailing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest, Sir Robin was the only one to complete the journey.

Comparing the experiences Sir Robin had fifty years ago compared to his own, British solo yachtsman Alex Thomson, the youngest Skipper to ever win the Clipper Race, on board Ariel in the 1996 edition, says: "People ask what it is like now compared to when Robin did it in 68-69. And for me there's no relation, you know for one, I need to have some reasonably constant communication with my team, with my family. I need to have that feeling that I have some control over the abilities where I'll talk to people, whereas back then Robin didn't have that.

He added: "The thought of doing more than 300 days... that's a different level, that's a completely different scale, so I can't see that what it is now is as hard as it was then. Perhaps the speed makes it more difficult, you know the stress of the speed being able to do 40 knots and instead of perhaps six or seven as a top speed, but still I would never choose to do what Robin did."

Following 1969, Robin went on to claim numerous honours, including the inaugural entry into the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Hall of Fame. He has been named Yachtsman of the Year an unprecedented four times by the Royal Yachting Association, set a record for the fastest circumnavigation with Sir Peter Blake in 1994, for which they were awarded the Trophée Jules Verne, and was knighted by the Queen in recognition of his service to sailing. In 2006, aged 67, he also set a new record for being the oldest yachtsman to sail solo around the world, in the Velux 5 Oceans Race.

Sir Robin is also Co-Founder and Chairman of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Today, over 5,000 international adventurers have been introduced to ocean racing in eleven editions of the biennially held Clipper Race, which Sir Robin which considers to be one of his greatest legacy in sailing.

Various public celebrations took place over the weekend in Falmouth, including the unveiling of a brass footprint cast in Falmouth Haven marina to mark Sir Robin's last steps as he departed on 15 June, 1968, and his first steps back on land 312 days later. An exhibition of recently unearthed images from his journey are also on display until 1 September at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.

The upcoming documentary, which also features interviews with Alex Thomson, Sir Chris Bonington, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and the BBC's John Simpson, will be out early May. Details to follow via @SirRKJ on Twitter and Instagram.

Click here to listen to the BBC Radio 4's Archive programme 'Sailing Into History' about Sir Robin's journey, as told by himself and members of his family, along with archive audio from the time.

Find out more at www.clipperroundtheworld.com

Related Articles

The Clipper Race Leg 1 Day 1
Which team will will cross the English Channel first? After the bold, fast start to Race 2, the Commodore's Cup, a 5,200nm race from Portimão, Portugal, to Punta del Este, Uruguay, a sharp drop in wind speed has left the fleet with a testing first 24 hours of racing as they head south. Posted on 16 Sep
Crews to cross their first ocean in global race
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race teams start Atlantic crossing The first big test of the 40,000 nautical mile Clipper Round the World Yacht Race awaits, with around 220 everyday people setting sail from Portimão, Portugal, to race across the Atlantic Ocean to Punta del Este in Uruguay. Posted on 15 Sep
Whitsundays Clipper Race Carnival tickets on sale
Race returns to the heart of The Great Barrier Reef The Whitsundays is set to come alive with festivities and fun when the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race returns to the Heart of The Great Barrier Reef in January 2020. Posted on 14 Sep
Clipper 2019-20 Race - Race 1 prizegiving
Punta del Este crowned winners of first race at sunset The first Prizegiving of the Clipper 2019-20 Race took place at the stunning Host Port of Marina de Portimão. Crew gathered to celebrate their achievements against an incredible backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and a golden sunset. Posted on 11 Sep
The Clipper Race Leg 1 - Race 1, Day 7
Punta del Este wins race to Portimão in Portugal The Spanish Skipper of Punta del Este Skipper, Jeronimo Santos Gonzalez, used his local knowledge and, along with his crew, navigated the light winds off Portugal with precision to cross the finish line in first place at 00:45:22 UTC. Posted on 9 Sep
The Clipper Race surfs into Portimão
Punta del Este wins the first stage The winners of the first stage of the Clipper 2019-20 Race (Race 1) have crossed the finish line into Portimão. Punta del Este took line honours, after racing 1,200 nautical miles from London, arriving into the Algarvian city at 00:45:22 UTC. Posted on 9 Sep
The Clipper Race Leg 1 - Race 1, Day 6
Ocean Sprint results are in! Skippers reported boat speed records being broken with Nick Leggatt, Skipper of Zhuhai, saying: "We were still under reefed Main and Yankee 2 at the time, running downwind in a gale. Posted on 8 Sep
Clipper Race crew surf giant waves
The eleven team enjoyed a real thrill-ride off the coast of Portugal A crew of everyday people from all walks of life surf down giant waves off the coast of Portugal as they compete in the first stage of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Posted on 8 Sep
The Clipper Race Leg 1 - Race 1, Day 5
Thrill ride conditions as Ocean Sprint gets underway Wind speeds of over 40 knots with a swell of over four meters made for some of the most exhilarating downwind conditions that the professional skippers, and their non-professional crews, have faced. Posted on 7 Sep
The Clipper Race Leg 1 - Race 1, Day 3
The fleet waves goodbye to UK waters and enters calmer conditions The third day of racing has brought new sailing conditions, the wind has backed and the teams have left the challenging upwind conditions behind them for now. Spinnaker sailing once again is making for more joyful experience for the crew. Posted on 5 Sep