Knox-Johnston Back in the Solo Saddle

Knox-Johnston at the helm of his Open 60 prior to its conversion to Grey Power livery

Shorthanded sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston recently announced he is coming out of solo-sailing retirement to compete in this fall’s Route Du Rhum challenge, from Saint Malo, France, to Guadeloupe aboard the Open 60 Grey Power—at the ripe old (young?) age of 75.

The last time Knox-Johnston—winner of the 1968-69 Golden Globe race and the first person to circumnavigate nonstop and alone—did the 3,500 mile race was in 1982, aboard the 70-foot catamaran Olympus.

Held every four years, this year’s Route Du Rhum has already attracted around 80 entries, and as always will see the fleet starting out onto the stormy November waters of the Bay of Biscay on its way to the Caribbean. We caught up with Knox-Johnston to get his thoughts on this latest foray into offshore racing.

SAIL: What prompted you to go offshore alone again after so many years?

RKJ: Participating in the 2013 Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race reminded me how much I enjoy the excitement of an ocean race. Solo sailing is where I feel most at home. No one else can benefit you or let you down. It is all in my hands.

SAIL: How does solo racing today compare to solo racing in years past?

RKJ: It’s like comparing the era of the biplane with the Concorde. You don’t really need to “navigate” these days, even with GPS. What you need to be able to do is interpret the weather forecasts in the interest of finding the fastest route, but there are even programs that do that for you.

SAIL: Have you changed your sailing style or approach to ocean racing with the passage of the years?

RKJ: I am not sure what is meant by sailing style. I race as I always race, as fast as I think is sensible for the prevailing conditions. Perhaps a little faster!

SAIL: Wisdom vs. the strength and vitality of youth: no contest?

RKJ: Solo sailing is more about mental attitude than strength, look at the very competitive ladies who participate in solo races.


Knox-Johnston aboard Suhali near the end of the 1968-69 Golden Globe race


Won the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race aboard the 32-foot ketch Suhaili


Won the two-handed Round Britain Race with Leslie Williams on Ocean Spirit (the first of 7 Round-Britain wins)


Takes line honors in the fully crewed Cape Town to Rio Race aboard Ocean Spirit


Co-skipper of the maxi Heath’s Condor in the Whitbread Round the World Race


Co-skipper, with Peter Blake, of the Jules Verne Trophy winning maxi-catamaran Enza


Solo circumnavigates a second time aboard the Open 60 SAGA Insurance as part of the VELUX 5 Oceans Race

Photos courtesy of Clipper Ventures PLC

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