Sailing record-breaker Sir Robin Knox-Johnston hails rope purchase decision

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has said a decision to spend his last £16 on rope before setting off on a record-breaking sailing bid was the “best investment” he has made in his life.

Almost 50 years ago on April 22, 1969, at the helm of his wooden vessel Suhaili which he helped hand-build in India, he became the first person to sail solo non-stop around the world.

Completing a full-circumnavigation of the world in 312 days, he arrived back into Falmouth, Cornwall, as the winner of the Golden Globe Race of 1968/1969.

To mark the anniversary, Sir Robin will sail Suhaili to Falmouth – setting off from Gosport on Thursday and arriving on Saturday with an escorting flotilla.

But the 80-year-old said he credits part of his success on the purchase of 600 foot of rope for £16 – or around £260 now – using his last available funds.

“It was all I could afford,” he told the Press Association. “It was two inch polypropylene, blue and probably the best investment I made in my life.”

Attached to Suhaili and sitting in a large loop at the back of the yacht, Sir Robin agreed that if he had not bought the rope it might well have been a different story.

“That held her stern to the waves in the Southern Ocean. So every time we started to want to run down a wave, that restrained her, she never swung around and broached,” he added.

At 32 feet and five inches long, Suhaili was packed full of the food which would sustain him during the endeavour, and suffered batterings from 80ft waves during the journey.

During his record-breaking voyage, Sir Robin only had a wind-up chronometer, a barograph, navigated using a sextant, and caught rainwater to survive.

He also began the race with a mild bout of jaundice, something the former Merchant Navy sailor said forced him to go at a slower pace for the first month as he recovered.

“You lack energy, and I knew the only cure was actually not to do too much – let the body rest, plenty of water, no alcohol and after a month I was fine,” he said.

“I’d had it before in Africa so I knew the symptoms… but if I had gone to hospital they wouldn’t have let me sail, so I thought ‘I’m not mentioning it, I am going’.”

Robin Knox-Johnston voyage 50th anniversary
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston stands on the deck of his boat Suhaili (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Written off as a serious contender for the record and race win, he said the doubt of others never worried him, and how he had “total confidence” in getting Suhaili around the world.

As the other competitors dropped out, sank or retired from the race, he eventually became the only entrant to cross the finish line.

Securing his place in the history books, there were more than 50 boats in the waters around Falmouth to greet him after his 30,000 mile voyage.

Describing the crowds and flotilla as “a dream” but how he was “too busy” to become emotional, Sir Robin said his biggest concern was where he was going to moor Suhaili.

Once back on land, with his family supplying him with fresh, clean clothes to wear, he revealed how his first priority was to enjoy a pint of ale, followed by a second.

Five decades later, his bond with Suhaili, moored in Gosport marina, Hampshire, is as strong as ever – with Sir Robin joking he will build and fit a mini lift on the yacht once he struggles to climb her ladder.

Robin Knox-Johnston voyage 50th anniversary
Sir Robin studies charts on board Suhaili (Andrew Matthews/PA)

But, he revealed that the vessel is not the one he ordered – with the wrong design plans being sent to him, it was a mix up he admits is “very glad” happened.

Asked whether his biggest legacy is his solo record or the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race which he co-founded, Sir Robin said: “I think the fact that people now race around the world non-stop is my legacy.

“But the other equally important legacy is the 5,000 people who have done the Clipper Race. I feel those people – I have really given them something special in their lives and I am really proud of that.”

Quizzed on the advice he has for those looking to escape the daily onslaught of Brexit and political turmoil, Sir Robin said he would “strongly recommend” sailing around the world.

– With a number events taking place over the weekend, in Falmouth harbour on Monday at 3.25pm, the exact time he crossed the finish line, Sir Robin, Suhaili and supporting vessels will recreate his historic end to the Golden Globe Race.

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