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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

19 February 2012

❖ The Great Solo Circumnavigator ❖ ❖ Robin Knox-Johnston and SUHAILI

Painting of SUHAILI 
by Melbourne Smith.
Published by Rudder magazine
September 1974.
In early afternoon on 14 June 1968, Robin Knox-Johnston had a final beer in a local pub before stepping onto a small, heavily laden sailboat rising gently to the swell in Falmouth Harbor. As usual when important events are in the wind, last minute preparations were still being done and two friends of Knox-Johnston's busied themselves forward bolting down a final deck fitting. With his departure imminent, the loneliness and doubt of the passage ahead seemed to suddenly press in on the young Englishman, threatening to undo all the resolve built up during the long months of preparation. Finally he called out, "Okay, I'll finish that, I'm off."
      And so he was. Off on one of the truly epic adventures in nautical history; one man and his small vessel would sail 30,000 miles non-stop around the world.
   
SUHAILI, 32-ft ketch rigged,
leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
One American and 3 British sailors sailed from
India to Africa, and ultimately to London
in 1965-67 where solo sailor,
Robin Knox-Johnston, age 27,
would begin his circumnavigation. 

Original photo dated 29 Mar 1966 from the archives
of the S. P. H. S.©

American, Rob Hill, aboard SUHAILI,
leaving Dar es Salaam.
Original photo dated 29 March 1966 by Keystone Press,
from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      At age 29, Knox-Johnston had 11 years of experience in the British Merchant Navy behind him with a passage from India under sail to toughen him mentally and physically for what lay ahead. But to many observers, his little 32-foot wooden ketch appeared to be a most singularly unqualified candidate for such an undertaking.
      Basically slow, with antiquated gear, a high cabin trunk, and a rickety self-steering system, the boat had not been the one Knox-Johnston had had in mind when a chance remark first started him thinking about attempting the passage. But as is often the case, money, or the lack of it, is the final determinant for the vessel many a sailor sails. And besides, there was more to SUHAILI than met the eye. Named after the Arabic word for southeast wind, she had been built in Bombay using handhewn Indian teak for stringers, frames, floors, and deck. Completed in 1965, even her planking was 1 ¼-inch teak and, with the exception of the high cabin coaming which would cause trouble southwest of Cape Town, she was a sturdy craft.
SUHAILI
From India to Africa to England
32-ft ketch off the Kent coast heading for Gravesend, Eng.
1967.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.
L-R: Heinz Fingerhut, 25, of
Knightston Lodge, Tenby, Pembrokeshire,
Christopher Knox-Johnston, 22, and brother 
Robin Knox-Johnston, 26,
both of The Rookery, Downs, Kent.
Aboard 32-ft Bermuda-rigged ketch SUHAILI
arrived Gravesend, 1967, from Bombay, India.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Shortly after Knox-Johnston made his decision to go, an English newspaper announced a $12,000 prize for the first man to do the circumnavigation non-stop. Suddenly SUHAILI had seven competitors, and nearly all much faster. So it was a race against the clock, the solitude and the elements, as the SUHAILI sailed into the Southern Ocean and its wailing winds and crashing seas. The specter of failure and total disaster was continually raised as fitting after fitting packed up. SUHAILI nearly lost her high cabin when smashed flat in a knockdown. Later her hull began leaking badly and had to be repaired under water. The steering vane broke, battery acid splashed into the skipper's eye. The gooseneck sheered off, water became contaminated, and the sextant took a severe jolt. Two tillers broke, and the boat was temporarily grounded on a sand bar south of New Zealand. A jibstay parted, and the engine seized up. The sails and even the skipper's clothes disintegrated as the gallant little vessel weathered gale after gale in the austral waters. It was a marvel of courage and endurance. At last as the competitors dropped out one by one, it was SUHAILI alone that laid claim to the prize.
SUHAILI, 21 April 1969.
She was slowed down by gale force winds on the
final lap of the 29,5000 mile non-stop voyage.
Location here is c. 100-miles from Falmouth.
Original photo by Keystone from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      On 22 April 1969, after 313 days at sea, a heavily reefed SUHAILI entered Falmouth Harbor in half a gale. The ship and crew had accomplished what no boat and no man had ever done before. Together they had encircled the world non-stop under sail.
Englishman Robin Knox-Johnston 
aboard his 32-ft SUHAILI
following his single-handed, 
non-stop circumnavigation 1969.
Photo from the book A World of My Own by R.K-J,
 William Morrow and Company, 1969. 
"Where from?" The English customs man asked the time-honoured question as the skipper stepped aboard.
      "Falmouth" Robin Knox-Johnston replied. The long journey into history was over.
Text by Jerry Cartwright
Rudder, September 1974


Robin Knox-Johnston
23 April 1969
A tankard after his solo 312-day non-stop circumnavigation.
Winner of the Sunday Times Golden Globe trophy.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
Knox-Johnston donated his prize money for being the fastest competitor in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race to the family of Donald Crowhurst, who committed suicide after attempting to fake his round the world sailing voyage.
BRITISH OXYGEN, 9 March 1974.
L-R: Gerry Boxall with champagne and 
Robin Knox-Johnston
Launching of the world's biggest racing catamaran,
Brightlingsea, Essex, England.
She will contest in the 1974 Round-Britain Race
with this crew of two. 
70-ft LOA, 32-ft B
Sails: 2,000+ sq. ft of plain sail.
Designed by Rod Maculpine-Downie.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The sailor of long-standing, with a big heart, was knighted in 1995.
Winter 2008-2009
The National Maritime Historical Society (USA) recognized Sir Robin Knox-Johnston for his accomplishments and contributions promoting the heritage of seafaring by bestowing upon him the NMHS Distinguished Service Award. 
Since the Golden Globe Race in 1969 he has competed in countless sailing races both solo and crewed, written a number of very popular books, and worked tirelessly to promote world-class marine events.
He was interviewed by Richard du Moulin for the NMHS's journal Sea History winter issue 2008/09 when he asked Knox-Johnston several questions; two we've chosen to include here:
Du Moulin--How did you first get involved in sailboat racing, and solo sailing in particular?
Knox-Johnston: I learned to sail in the merchant navy. In the 1950s, lifeboats still carried masts and sails--so we had to learn how to use them. But I was lucky, I was sent to a Cadet ship where the crew were replaced by apprentices, and we were given a sailing whaler and two dinghies for recreational purposes.
      I had built my boat SUHAILI in Bombay (Mumbai) and sailed her home via Arabia and the Cape of Good Hope. Whilst I was doing that, Frances Chichester sailed around the world with one stop, and I felt that left just one thing left in sailing--to go 'round alone non-stop.
Du Moulin--How did you finance the 1969 Golden Globe Race? 
Knox-Johnston--I tried to get sponsorship but failed completely, so I financed the voyage on a bank overdraft and by writing. The advances for a book helped.
Du Moulin--In hindsight, what is your most memorable observation or recollection of that race?
Knox-Johnston--My most memorable recollection is dealing with those who told me the voyage was not possible and I could not do it. I thought differently.



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