Sir Robin Knox-Johnston celebrates 3rd in historic Route du Rhum solo race

Sir Robin-Knox Johnston has made solo sailing history again by finishing in 3rd place in the Route du Rhum Race’s Rhum class. Sir Robin, 75, admitted that it had been a tough race in his Open 60, Grey Power, but vowed to be back competing again in the 3,542-mile solo transatlantic race in the next edition in 2018.

His race has captured the imaginations of the legions of French supporters of this famous race, among whom he has gained the nickname ‘the Don’. It is the latest feat in a lifetime of making history dating back to 1969, when he won the Golden Globe Race and became the first person to sail alone non-stop round the world.

Right to the finish he was locked in a tense final battle with Italian course record holder for his class Andrea Mura, doing all he could to steal 2nd place in the 20-strong fleet.

He said: “I will be back next time with a smaller boat. I am absolutely over the moon, ecstatic to get 3rd. I was up against some really good competition in this class. These last few days we have been racing very hard against each other and in the end there is no shame in being beaten by good people. And I was beaten by two very good people. I congratulate them.”

He was visibly delighted when he steered his 14-year-old Open 60 across the finish line in Guadeloupe. His time of 20d 7h represents a theoretical average speed of 7.26 knots – but in reality he sailed 4,416 miles over the ground at an average of 9.05 knots. He finished 3d behind the Rhum Class winner, Anne Caseneuve, on her Multi 50 Trimaran Aneo.

Andrea Mura had crossed the finish with Sir Robin, who had closed more than 200 miles in the last nine days, about 17 miles behind.

Sir Robin’s podium place underlined that his age, experience, seamanship and prudence is a match for anyone in his class.

“My race was slow to start but got faster as I went along and it was great because I had three other boats in the same class who were close and we were all very equal, and so that made it great,” he said.

“The hard bits were the first days and coming round the island at the end. The constituents which make this race great are Saint Malo at the start, we are racing to Guadeloupe which is wonderful and it is an interesting course to follow. It has everything right, it really does.

“The competition was excellent, I loved watching to see how I was gaining or losing, that made it really fun.

“The low point was the English Channel and last night was one to forget, it was pretty much pandemonium at times. I tore the reaching sail and had a Chinese gybe.

“If I said in Saint Malo I felt 48 then perhaps tonight I feel 50 but no more!

“I do this because I enjoy it. And there are some great sailors to race against. We are all competing and it is a wonderful sport to be in. So why give it up? If you can still do it, do it!
“When I heard Loick Peyron was coming back next year that was it. He has a little trimaran so I need to sell this boat and build a trimaran and but it will be more of a cruising tri, but it would be great to race Loick again, he is such good fun. He did fantastically.”

Knox-Johnston sailed a typically accomplished course, relying on high average speeds and a smart, regular track, remaning safe through the big winds and seas of the first three days after the start on Sunday 2nd November.

Unlike Mura, who became trapped in the light winds of the Azores high pressure zone, making pedestrian speeds for three days Knox-Johnston sailed a low risk course which balanced sailing the minimum distance while also remaining in the best available breeze for most of the time.

He pulled back more than 200 miles on Mura and rose to 3rd on the penultimate day of the race. He was reeling Mura in until the breeze shut down on the final 50 miles around the island of Guadeloupe. But the Italian, who nicknamed his 75-year-old adversary ‘Robin Hood’ was so impressed with his esteemed rival’s race he said on the dock that he considered waiting at the finish for him, to enjoy the moment and get a picture of them together.

The legendary single-handed race, which Knox-Johnston last sailed in 1982 on his 70ft catamaran Sea Falcon, was the perfect challenge to lure him back to ocean racing after a seven years hiatus. The Rhum class is peppered with boats with storied histories, such as a pair of 38ft trimarans that are sisters to that of Canadian Mike Birch, who won the innuagural race in 1978 by just 98 seconds, as well as some of the older generation sailors.

Sir Robin’s last race was around the world, completing the Velux 5 Oceans race in 4th place in May 2007. And this time his Route du Rhum proved his better than 32 years ago. In 1982, five days in, he lead the race outright but the catamaran’s batteries suddenly caught fire and he had to reroute to Madeira to replace them. He finished 14th overall.

After many years at the helm of the very successful Clipper Ventures plc business which runs round the world races for paying, amateur sailors, his participation in last year’s Sydney-Hobart race rekindled his racing spirit. He said in Saint Malo that he was doing this race “because I bloody well want to go racing again.”