Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book review: "A Race Too Far" by Chris Eakin

Of all offshore sailing races, none can compare to the 1968 Golden Globe. To this day it fascinates and is the subject of this great book by Chris Eakin, A Race Too Far.

Its a story that has everything: the place in the record books for the first single handed sail around the world, the battle with the elements, boats that literally fell apart in storms, a great victory, a broken man cheating and lying.... so much drama, so many great characters.

And its been the subject of a series of books, from participants like Robin Knox-Johnston's A World of My Own and Bernard Moitessier's The Long Way to writers like Peter Nichols's A Voyage for Madmen.

At the London Boat Show I met Chris Eakin and picked up a copy of his book, A Race Too Far.

I did wonder what more there was to say about this race, and it turns out quite a bit. For the story didn't end when Knox-Johnston stepped ashore: the participants and their families still live under the shadow of the events of 1968/69.

I really enjoyed this book and its very well written and researched. He tracks down the survivors of the race and some close relatives to competitors for their reflections and memories. These were not always easy given the inevitable damage that comes from the suicide of Crowhurst, the inexplicable death of Tetley and the abandonment of his family by Moitessier.

As you'd expect Knox-Johnston comes across as the most rooted, (distressingly) normal and supportive of the families of other competitors. He also seems to have moved on the most and least likely to dwell on the past (apart from correcting the niggles that Moitessier might have got their first).

Strongly recommended, a worthy addition to the literature about this great race.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Boat work, Richmond

It was a lovely spring day yesterday, and a walk along the Thames by Richmond saw many busy either out on the water or preparing for the year ahead.

There were also lots of men walking around in sort of skirts, but I have a feeling they didn't enjoy the afternoon so much.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Before "All is lost"

I missed seeing "All is lost" at the cinema but caught it on TV earlier this year. It's a really good film and Robert Redford is brilliant. 

However like many sailors I found there were also some issues. I couldn't work out why there was no waterproof handheld VHS or GPS, why no EPIRB, why he seemed so unfamiliar with a sextant, why a container can get stuck in the side of a yacht in a calm (and why a sea anchor helps release it), why not use the official Mayday wording, the poor heavy weather technique... and so on.

But since then I've worked out a back-story that makes it all fit together, so here goes:


The Man wasn't the owner or skipper. The Yacht Owner (again, no name) was a retiree who lived in South Africa and was sailing round the world. He (probably a he, but could be a she) left Cape Town some years ago, heading west and had reached south-east Asia.

It was beginning to be a bit of struggle and his health wasn't great. So he got in touch with an old sailing friend, The Man, to see if he could help crew for the final legs back home.

Now The Man was a keen sailor, but not yachts, and not offshore. He sailed dinghies - maybe Lasers or Sunfishes, now moving on to Aeros, possibly on the east coast of the USA. But he was up for a challenge so booked his flight  and flew out to join the Yacht Owner.

The first leg was great. It was classic offshore ocean sailing, downwind or reaching, lovely clear nights, perfect anchorages, and it gave The Man a sense that offshore was wonderful and not as hard as he feared: it gave him a false sense of security.

Then disasters struck. They'd reached the last port of call before "All is lost" and the Yacht Owner's health was hit hard. Maybe the big C, a stroke or possibly the heart, but he had to have an emergency medivac home.

So The Man is in charge of his friend's yacht, in a strange port. But the visa is about to run out, and he has to leave, but he is unsure what to do. His friend is in a hospital back in South Africa and unable to make decisions.

One night The Man is lying on his bunk on the yacht, rocking gently at anchor, wondering between two paths of action. He could leave the boat there and fly home or he could sail the final leg as planned, from the last port of call to Cape Town, but by himself.

Then then is a bang outside and invaders on deck then in the cabin! An armed gang of robbers bursts in with guns and knives, grabbing what they can. They take the waterproof laptop, the handheld GPS, VHF and EPIRB and are about to rummage about (and find the old rubbish laptop) when a passing boat spooks them and they run, leaving The Man scared and trembling.

He fears that if he leaves the yacht there it will be burgled again or wrecked. How much better, he thinks, if he can save the boat for Yacht Owner and bring it safely back to Cape Town. Surely it would help his friend and assist his recovery to know that his yacht is safe in the habour nearby.

And the last leg wasn't so bad: he could do that by himself, he, after all, knows a thing or two about sailing.

The Man just wants to do the right thing: so he lets slip the lines and heads out.

What could possibly go wrong?


Wednesday, March 01, 2017