Book Review: A Voyage For Madmen by Peter Nichols

A Voyage For Madmen

This is by far one of my favourite sailing books. At some point I read about the craziest sailing competition that was organised in 1968, The Sunday Times Golden Globe race, the first non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race. Peter Nichols’ is a fabulous account of this event written from the perspective of all the 9 participants who registered for the start of the competition. Without any boat standards, any safety measures or without a fixed date for departure, this was truly a voyage of madmen, of nine different characters possessing different skills and crafts who competed against all odds for becoming the first in history to achieve something extraordinary. The outcome of this event and the fates of the participants had worldwide reverberations and shaped the course of the future sailing competitions. Without spoiling the book, I will briefly quote from Wikipedia the introductory passage about this unique event, hoping that it will stir your imagination and lead you to open this great book.

The race was sponsored by the British Sunday Times newspaper and was designed to capitalise on a number of individual round-the-world voyages which were already being planned by various sailors; for this reason, there were no qualification requirements, and competitors were offered the opportunity to join and permitted to start at any time between 1 June and 31 October 1968. The Golden Globe trophy was offered to the first person to complete an unassisted, non-stop single-handed circumnavigation of the world via the great capes, and a separate £5,000 prize was offered for the fastest single-handed circumnavigation.

Nine sailors started the race; four retired before leaving the Atlantic Ocean. Of the five remaining, Chay Blyth, who had set off with absolutely no sailing experience, sailed past the Cape of Good Hope before retiring; Nigel Tetley sank with 1,100 nautical miles (2,000 km) to go while leading; Donald Crowhurst, who attempted to fake a round-the-world voyage, began to show signs of mental illness, and then committed suicide; and Bernard Moitessier, who rejected the philosophy behind a commercialised competition, abandoned the race while in a strong position to win and kept sailing non-stop until he reached Tahiti after circling the globe one and a half times. Robin Knox-Johnston was the only entrant to complete the race, becoming the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. He was awarded both prizes, and later donated the £5,000 to a fund supporting Crowhurst’s family.

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