Will there ever be another ocean race as dramatic and compelling as the 1968-69 Golden Globe? It’s hard to imagine. This legendary competition, the first to lead solo sailors on a nonstop course around the world, was so imbued with pathos that it has inspired interest among both sailors and the general public for nearly 50 years now. It seems the steady stream of books, films and even stage plays on the subject will never cease.
The Shakespearian sweep of the race was, of course, most acutely embodied in Donald Crowhurst, the madly ambitious electrical engineer who faked his voyage by sending in false position reports and then stepped off his boat to his death when he realized his deception would be revealed. Soon we will be treated to yet another creative take on this terrible tragedy in an upcoming major motion picture (still untitled as we go to press) that has the Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth slated to play the role of Crowhurst.
Unfortunately, the greatest tragedies often beget additional tragedy, and most have long assumed it was Crowhurst’s deception that also led to the apparent suicide of another competitor, Nigel Tetley, just two years after the race. Tetley drove his own boat so hard racing against Crowhurst it broke up near the finish and cost him his chance of victory, so he did have good reason to feel disappointed. But he was found hanging from a tree dressed in women’s underwear, and his death most likely was the accidental result of what one pathologist described as “a masochistic sexual exercise.” Which, let’s face it, is hardly a mundane plot point.
The most inspirational Golden Globe competitor, tellingly, was the charismatic Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, who might have won the race, but blew it off and kept sailing around the world again. It was an act of Gallic bravado that in the minds of many ultimately eclipsed the achievement of the race winner, Robin Knox-Johnston, who in the end was the only competitor to complete the course.
With the golden anniversary of the race now plainly visible on the horizon, it is hardly surprising that a commemorative event, the 2018 Golden Globe Race, is in the works. This is being organized by an ex-BOC racer, Don McIntrye, and is set to start off from Falmouth, England, on June 14 of next year, exactly 50 years after Knox-Johnston set out from that same port on his great circumnavigation.
McIntyre is intent on capturing the low-tech Corinthian spirit of the original in his event, so he has strictly limited both the technology and types of boats that are permitted. In fact, the strictures on competing vessels—they must be full-keel fiberglass boats with attached rudders, between 32ft and 36ft long, designed before 1988—are so severe that exactly none of the boats that sailed in the original event would qualify. Most of the technology restrictions, meanwhile, do make sense in terms of limiting costs, but some seem gratuitous or even mean-spirited. For example, no digital entertainment devices or digital cameras can be carried onboard.
What is heartening is that this race, like the original, has inspired great interest. The list of provisional entrants is already fully subscribed with a great mix of sailors from all over the world, including Jean-Luc van den Heede, who has finished on the podium in both the old BOC Race and the Vendée Globe. There is also a long waiting list of auxiliary entrants anxious to take the place of any who drop out before the start.
I am certainly not hoping that this race turns out to be as dramatic as the first one. But in a world where an aspiring Moitessier or Knox-Johnston must be capable of raising millions of dollars to compete in events like the Vendée Globe, I am hoping it proves a great success. McIntyre is already making noises about running a follow-up event in 2022, and I think it would be a great thing if amateur sailors who dream of racing around the world once again had a reasonable chance to make those dreams come true.
SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane, sails his Tanton 39 on the Maine coast and down in the West Indies whenever he gets the chance. He is the author of The Modern Cruising Sailboat, published by International Marine, and is a contributing blogger at SAILfeed.com