"I got a job in Durban, as captain of a ship, running up & down the east coast. And that’s when Chichester went past on his voyage around the world and I began to think about it. I got home, and I saw him come in, saw him come up the Thames, and I thought, ‘There’s one thing left to do - go around without stopping.’"
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is a living legend. In 1968 he became the first person to sail solo & nonstop around the world in the infamous Golden Globe Race, in a wooden ketch he built himself, and inspiring modern ocean racing as we know it. Sir Robin went on to compete in several Whitbread races, completed some little-known feats of traditional navigation, set the Jules Verne record with Peter Blake, created the Clipper Race and on and on. I sat down with him in England to reflect on his career.
Topics, quotes and links from the podcast
- The interview was recorded in person at the Southampton Boat Show, 2016
- “From about the age of 8 I wanted to go to sea”
- Robin had his 32’ ketch Suhaili built in India. “Thinking about it [building Suhaili and sailing back to England] is the hard part, it is much easier to make the decision and get on with it! Build a boat, sail it home and sell it!”
- Andy: What inspired you to the sailing voyages? “I never sailed in Britain at that time, it was always East Africa, India and Pakistan so I didn't know anything about the sailing scene in the West. It was a bit of a chock when I came back, you did not just sail up to the yacht club to tie up.”
- “The idea of the ‘around the world’ sail started when I was on my way back from, India. I had a job onboard a ship and that's when Chichester went past and I began to think about it. There is one thing left to do, lets go around the world non-stop.”
- “I got this boat, I take her, I can do this. Next thing I got a newspaper signed up and a publisher signed up.”
- “That to me was the race, to be the 1st person to have done it [sail around the world non-stop].”
- Robin was a boxer during school, one sport he was good at. “It was a good sport for me! I haven’t done it for year, would probably be killed if I tired.”
- "In the middle of getting ready for the ‘around the world sail’, Sunday Times discovered that it was more boats trying to do this [sail around the world] because we had approached them before for support." The Golden Globe race was formed.
- Bill King was one of the original four who planned the around the world sail. The rules were very slack, Donald Crowhurst for example should never have gone. Other participants were Chay Blyth, Bernard Moitessier, Nigel Tetley, a total of 9 participants.
- Robin Knox Johnston left for the trip on June 14th, 1968. The radio broke in the beginning and had no idea where anyone was until New Zealand.
- The Bluewater Medal by The Cruising Club of America: “They never gave me the medal because they said he was sponsored.”
- What are you most proud of? “It is probably a combination of Clipper and the Golden Globe! “
- Clipper around the World Race: “I have a great team around me in the Clipper. The idea started when I was climbing in Greenland and discussing climbing the Everest with Chris Bonington. The equivalent to the Everest in sailing is to sail around the world. 8000 people answered out ad in the paper about the trip! A total of 8 identical 60 footers were built, the route arranged and 11 month later the race started.”
- The trip when Robin sailed solo to America with only an astrolabe. He left from the Canary Island and sailed to San Salvador, around 100 miles a day, just about the same as Columbus. “It was pure curiosity, how did they use the instruments and why“.
- David Lewis: Robin helped tow him off a sandbank off Durban with Suhaili, he was on Rehu Moana at the time.
- Icebird, book by David Lewis.
- Suhaili is back in the water, she will be raced Saturday and Sunday! She has been out of the water for the last 3 years.
- Arctic sailing, Robin sailed a square rigger up to Spitzbergen in 1995 , “it was fascinating getting through the ice! And I took Suhaili up to the East Coast of Greenland. I have been up there 4 times, I love it up there, its clear, its clean and not polluted with people.”
- Sir Peter Blake first raced together with Robin in 1971, then Blake was his mate in the 1977 Whitbread Round the World Race onboard Heath's Condor and they kept in touch ever since.
- “We [Robin Knox-Johnston and Peter Blake] were both on the Whitbread committee when we heard about the Jules Verne Trophy (the fastest circumnavigation of the world by any type of yacht and we decided to team up and do it.) We wanted to beat 80 days, we thought it was possible Unfortunately we hit something and had to pull out." Their sponsors in New Zealand let us give it a second try, the publicity had been great. "Ok we are off, lets go!”
- Andy: How do you handle fear? “Its usually a bit late!”
- Andy: What does your blood flowing? “History, especially Maritime History!” Throughout the episode Andy & Robin talk a lot about history and it is very clear that it is a big interest.
- Sailing Superstitions – Sailing on a Friday 13th does worry Robin.
- Being knighted and how to announce a Sir. Drop the last name and the proper way is Sir Robin.
- Youth sailing and how to get them involved in sailing. Robin wants all school to have sailing n the curriculum in one way or the other.
- The poem "Listen to the Mustn'ts by Shel Silverstein"
- Matt Rutherford and the drama he had thus summer up in Greenland.
- Books by Bill (Harold William) Tilman
Books By Robin Knox-Johnston
- A World on My Own (1969) - The story of the Golden Globe
- Sailing (1977)
- Last but not Least (1978, The Whitbread Race)
- The Twilight of Sail (1978)
- Bunkside Companion (1986)
- BOC Challenge (1986), with Barry Pickthall
- Seamanship (1987)
- The Cape of Good Hope (1989)
- History of Yachting (1990)
- The Columbus Venture (1991)
- Sea Ice and Rocks (1993) with Chris Bonington
- Cape Horn, a Maritime History (1994)
- Beyond Jules Verne (1995)
- Force of Nature (2007)