Here’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston sitting on Suhaili, the original boat in which he made history 50 years ago by becoming the first person to sail alone, non-stop around the world, winning the first Golden Globe race; next to him is Bill Rowntree, who photographed the start and end of the trip for the Sunday Mirror and created some of the most memorable images in sailing.
Sir Robin brought Suhaili to Plymouth for a rally organised by the southwest section of the Cruising Association to celebrate the anniversary. Several of us then followed him to Falmouth, his original departure point, for a three-day jamboree and a chance to see skippers and boats competing in a re-run of the Golden Globe.
Sir Robin is ordinary and extraordinary. He talked to anyone who came up for a chat, spent the afternoon in the pub watching the rugby and nearly got into a fight with a Scotsman who took his seat, and hung his washing over the boom like any of the rest of us. But he had the courage, determination and seamanship to sail alone in an age without GPS, satellite phones or downloadable weather charts; and to keep going when his gear failed and all the other Golden Globe competitors dropped out or went mad; two committed suicide and one sailed a second time round the world rather than come home.
It was a privilege to join a small band of perhaps two hundred passionate sailors for the events in Falmouth: a press conference in the Chain Locker pub to introduce the skippers in the Golden Globe 2018 race, sailing small family-priced, long-keeled cruisers and navigating with sextant and paper charts as Robin did 50 years ago; a book signing by Sir Robin; and a talk about the original and the new race by speakers including Bill Rowntree, who showed some of his famous photographs and told the story behind them.
Falmouth made little of what was a historic event, though. Plymouth grabbed the right to host the start of the race but then couldn’t find sponsors and lost it to Les Sables d’Olonne in France. There was little publicity in the town and no events to pull in lots of spectators. The mayor of Les Sables d’Olonnes said he expected 100,000 people to watch the start on 1st July; surely Falmouth would have wanted a crowd like that?
Many thanks to John and Martin for crewing Guiding Star to Falmouth; and special thanks to Martin’s friend Rich for lending us his pickup truck so we could retrieve the dinghy outboard from servicing in Penryn.