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Changing your life - Robin Knox-Johnston

Knox-Johnston standing on his ketch in heavy seas

On April 22nd 1969, William Robert Patrick 'Robin' Knox-Johnston did what had never been done before and changed his life.

In 1968, the Sunday Times challenged mariners to sail non-stop around the world, a feat then believed to be impossible. Nine men responded, including Robin Knox-Johnston, a merchant mariner.

Robin had known since he was a boy that he loved to sail. Born in 1939, he had gone to sea in the merchant navy when he was eighteen. But in the navy he sailed with and depended on other men. This was a completely new challenge, and likely to be terrifying. Further, he did not have much money, and he did not have a boat. Still, he wanted a change. He wanted to change his life.

So Knox-Johnston built a 32-foot wooden ketch he called the Suhaili and sailed out of Falmouth in the Times Golden Globe Race on June 14th 1968. He proceeded to sail round the world without stopping. When he rounded Cape Horn, the most southerly point of South America and the northern boundary of the Drake Passage, he was 20 days ahead of his nearest competitor.

Route of Golden Globe race

The route of Robin's circumnavigation. His voyage took 313 days. The seas were alive with whales. Dolphins swam alongside his yacht. Image: NASA / WIKI

On April 22nd 1969, Knox-Johnston sailed into Falmouth and became the first person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop and single-handed.

After that Robin won round Britain races. He organized sailing races. He took the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation in 1994 with co-skipper Peter Blake. When he was not on the water he was helping others learn to sail.

Age cannot stop a real adventurer

From 1992 to 2002 he served as a trustee of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and as as President of the Sail Training Association (STAR), which teaches youngsters to sail, and as a trustee of the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall. In 1996 he helped to establish the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. "It is perhaps his greatest achievement to have introduced so many people to competitive sailing via their involvement in Clipper Ventures (WIKI)." Robin also had another adventure up his sleeve.

Grizzled Robin Knox-Johnston

Sir William Robert Patrick 'Robin' Knox-Johnston CBE, RD
He has weathered his share of storms, doldrums, and mechanical breakdowns.

In 2007, sixty-eight years old, Robin went to sea again, racing around the world in the Velux 5 Oceans competition. He was sailing at 15 to 30 knots, but was forced to make a number of unplanned stops for repairs.

Sleep was possible for about 90 minutes at a time. When he could, he enjoyed a cocktail between 5 and 6 pm, and toasted his wife, Suzanne, and their "storybook marriage" which had survived a tempestuous start. Suzanne died in 2003. He hoped the sea would heal his broken heart.

His voyage did accomplish one thing worth thinking about on Earth Day. He saw shipping and pollution on the high seas in quantities he had never seen before.

Somehow this pollution has to be tackled and ended.

Bottlenose dolphin leaping in air over beautiful green sea

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