Knox-Johnston's final race around the world will go down in history as a remarkable achievement 4/5/07
Bilbao witnessed an historic moment in sport today as hundreds of people from the Basque capital welcomed back Sir Robin Knox-Johnston as the pioneer of solo sailing completed the Velux 5 Oceans round the world yacht race. Nearly 40 years after Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail non-stop around the world in the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe, the 68 year old made history again as he completed a second solo circumnavigation of the planet. Sir Robin becomes the oldest person to have completed this classic race and his natural ability, determination and perseverance has seen him beat the world’s best skippers and leave him fighting for a podium position in the final rankings.
Where others have failed, Knox-Johnston has succeeded in the face of constant adversity. Only 165 people have ever successfully sailed solo around the world. Sir Robin was already part of this extraordinary group of sportsmen but has again proved himself. Indeed, he is the pioneer of solo sailing and started a passion that still surrounds races such as the Velux 5 Oceans. Repeating this near impossible feat for a second time is on a par with Neil Armstrong returning to the moon or Edmund Hilary climbing Everest again 40 years later.
Speaking from the marina in Gexto, where he was met by his brother, friends, supporters, sponsors and shore crew, he commented: “I am very pleased to be back in Bilbao. It was a fantastic welcome. People on the water, the pontoons, everywhere. Bilbao has always been great since the start! For this leg we got the boat together and I had very few problems. At the beginning I decided to sacrifice 30 hours going north as I didn’t believe in the southern course Unai was taking. But now he has better wind than I had with a nice westerly bringing him back home. I would like to tell him: ‘Unai you are my best friend when you are onshore but God I hate you at sea!’
“Technologies have been my main issue in the Velux 5 Oceans. I would have preferred to do the race the way it was in 1969. The problem is now we are absolutely dependent on weather programs and I unfortunately didn’t have enough time at the beginning of this project to learn everything. I wish one normal and easy manual would exist for it. This time was easier than 30 years ago; but it is always easier when you know it can be done, which was not the case 40 years ago. Nothing will compare to the first voyage.
“It was my last circumnavigation, I won’t do it again, which is sad. In four years time it will be too old to do it. The Velux 5 Oceans has already been frustrating so I guess in four years time I wouldn’t be competitive enough and it would be too frustrating for me. It is a tough race; firstly you must get round but also get round quickly.”
Saga Insurance crossed the finish line of the third and final leg at 1122 local time (0922 GMT), before arriving into Bilbao to the cheers of the Basque people. The third leg from Norfolk, Virginia (USA) took the Open 60 16 days, 17 hours and 2 minutes. Sir Robin finished three and a half days behind the winner Bernard Stamm and claims third place in the leg. In the overall rankings, Knox-Johnston is fighting for a podium finish (third) with local Basque hero Unai Basurko. The Bilbao skipper is 100 miles behind Knox-Johnston in this leg but holds a 42-hour lead over the British sailor and therefore looks likely to arrive in Bilbao and snatch third place from Sir Robin. Having completed the race in 159 days, 12 hours and 42 minutes, he has knocked 153 days off his time in the Sunday Times Golden Globe.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s story in the Velux 5 Oceans shows a real commitment and passion for the yacht racing – and persistence to the end. Sailing an old generation of racing yacht and taking ownership of the boat only months before the start, he was already at a disadvantage against leading sailors such as Mike Golding, Alex Thomson and Bernard Stamm.
As RYA Chairman, Rod Carr said: “My heartfelt congratulations go to Sir Robin Knox Johnston on his achievements in the Velux Five Oceans. His tenacity, stamina and sheer determination are truly an inspiration to us all, whatever age we are.”
Unprepared and inexperienced in the Open 60 class, he bravely set off from Bilbao last October and sailed straight into hurricane conditions in the atrocious storm off Cape Finisterre. He very nearly made it through before Saga Insurance was knocked on its side and he damaged his mast track, forcing him to land for repairs. However, he re-joined the race and slowly understood how to get speed from his craft. As Alex Thomson and Mike Golding retired with damaged yachts, Sir Robin kept his boat in one piece and arrived in Fremantle (Western Australia) to take third place and a podium finish.
Velux 5 Oceans Race Director David Adams muses: “Everyone thought Sir Robin was simply mad when he announced he was entering the Velux 5 Oceans and sailing single-handed around the world again at the age of 67. However, I never doubted his ability or conviction and it is truly a testament to the mental, physical and emotional strength of the man that he is here today. He is a true seaman, although completing this race is no easy task and there should be no doubt that this accomplishment will be remembered for a long time and set a very hard task for those that follow to erase. We salute a true legend of solo sailing and the history of this race.”
Technology has been a problem for Sir Robin since day one. Having sailed around the world with nothing but a sextant and the stars for navigation and a VHF radio for communication, the modern day technology was a constant struggle and regularly failed. He sailed through the most isolated parts of the Southern Ocean with no weather information and still kept pace with his younger adversaries. When he first made history, his autopilot was constructed out of metal bars and he drank water that he collected in a bucket on his boom.
Defending champion Bernard Stamm concludes: “Robin is part of many generations of sailors. He knew and completed the very first ocean races, then a series of records and now again offshore racing in a completely different boat. It’s such an achievement. For me, it is has been close to ten years since I have been ocean racing with the same boats so I haven’t needed to change how I sail. I don’t have his experience and knowledge.”