Sailing: Around the world in two very different ways

Ellen MacArthur is on course to break the solo round-the-world yachting record. Robin Knox-Johnston, who first performed the feat, recalls his contrasting achievement

When I set out from Falmouth on 14 June 1968, no one knew if it was possible to sail a boat non-stop around the world. The closest anyone had got previously was sailing non-stop from Britain to Australia.

When I set out from Falmouth on 14 June 1968, no one knew if it was possible to sail a boat non-stop around the world. The closest anyone had got previously was sailing non-stop from Britain to Australia.

Just before I left, a stranger came up to me and said, "Are you this chap who thinks he can sail non-stop around the world?" I said, "Well, I'm going to have a go." He said, "It can't be done and, in any case, you couldn't do it."

In fact, I did sail non-stop around the world, arriving back in Falmouth 312 days later. Ellen MacArthur is on course to complete the same journey in 72 days, a new record. The difference between her voyage and mine is vast. My boat, the Suhaili, was small and wooden. MacArthur's boat, B & Q, is three times as long as mine, half as heavy and has sails three or four times larger.

To navigate, I had a sextant and a chronometer (a posh navy word for a clock). The equipment had changed very little since Captain Cook's time. MacArthur has GPS (global positioning system), which updates every three seconds, telling you where you are, what speed you are doing and what direction you're going in. So, in fact, you don't need to navigate. I spent about two hours a day trying to figure out where I was, working it out longhand.

MacArthur will also be in constant communication with her team. She can just dial a number and talk. I was communicating with the UK once a week via my radio - not that I always got through. Just after I'd made that call was the only time I ever felt really low. However, my radio packed up after two and a half months so, for eight months of the voyage, I didn't have any contact with anyone.

Before I went, I'd never been on my own for longer than a few hours so I had no idea how it would affect me. But, as it turned out, it didn't bother me at all, although I did wonder sometimes whether I was going mad without knowing it. I felt fine but I might have come back to land and found out that I was bonkers. So, I learnt poetry, such as Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, as a mental exercise.

When I set out, I wasn't worried about my ability to sail. But I had no idea whether my boat had the ability to survive the Southern Ocean where waves can be up to 30 metres high. One day, as I was sailing through the Southern Ocean, I went on deck and saw a huge wave - about 25 metres - coming towards me. I realised I wasn't going to get below deck before it hit and that, if I stayed on deck, I'd get washed off, so I climbed the rigging. For what seemed like an hour - but it can only have been five to ten seconds - all I could see was me and two masts. The boat was completely submerged. However, it popped up again, as they tend to do.

These days, you can get accurate predictions of what the weather is going to do 10 days ahead, so you can avoid storms. I couldn't do that. All I had, after the radio packed up, was a barometer, which came from a pub. It had 'Lovely Day for a Guinness' written on it. When that dropped, I knew there was another depression coming, but I didn't know how serious it was and, in any case, I couldn't do anything. I just had to take whatever weather came my way.

So, modern sailors would probably be able to avoid storms like the ones I encountered in the Southern Ocean. And, even if they were faced by a 25-metre wave, they would just surf it. Modern boats are much faster so you can run with the waves.

I was in the Southern Ocean for 150 days and I was permanently damp or wet for that time. I had waterproofs but they are nothing like you have today. I cut holes in my boots because I couldn't bear the squelching.

I lost my water tanks at the same time as the radio so I lived off what I could catch in the sails. And, just before I went round Australia, my self-steering system broke. So, from then on I was on the Knox-Johnston Mark II self-steering system: my left and right arms. I'd steer for about 16 hours a day. I'd dash downstairs, grab a tin of bully beef and munch it cold in the cockpit. I was getting about six hours sleep a day, but in two or three doses. I don't know how much sleep MacArthur will be getting. I imagine, not much. These days, sailors seem to think it's clever to go without sleep. They almost seem to be trying to see who can go around the world with the least sleep.

ROBIN KNOX-JOHNSTON
Born: 17 March 1939
Departure: 14 June 1968
Finish: 22 April 1969
Total journey time: 312 days
Boat: Suhaili
Type: Teak-hulled ketch
Length: 9.8metres
Beam: 3.4metres
Weight: 14 tonnes
Speed: 90 to 100 miles per day
Communications: Radio - which broke 10 weeks into the voyage
Navigation tools: Sextant, a chronometer and tables. The loss of the radio meant it was no longer possible to obtain time checks.. Weather forecasts too were unobtainable, reliance being placed on a barometer (which Knox-Johnston took from a pub).
Human contact: Once a week until radio broke
Supplies: 1,550 tins of corned beef, pork sausages, condensed milk and spaghetti
Clothing: Oilskins and pullovers
Budget: Modest. Knox-Johnston built the 'Suhaili' himself

ELLEN MACARTHUR
Born: 8 July 1976
Departure: 28 November 2004
Finish: Must finish by 7.04am on 9 February 2005 to beat current record
T otal journey time: Hopefully less than 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds
Boa otal journey timet: B&Q
Type: Carbon fibre trimaran
Length: 22.9metres
Beam: 16.2metres
Weight: 8.3 tonnes
Speed: About 430 miles a day
Communications: Data and voice contact over internet connection allows for constant communication and up-to-date detailed weather forecast information, satellite phone (plus a spare), three mini distress-message sending terminals which can also send location details to land team. There are also 12 cameras and eight microphones on board so MacArthur can share her progress with the world
Navigation tools: Global positioning system which pinpoints her exact location within three seconds
Human contact: In regular contact over internet
Supplies: To make the boat as light as possible, MacArthur has stocks of freeze-dried food (adapted from food developed for military use), plus energy boosting snacks and 11 packets of chewing gum. Water is not stored on board but made from sea water using a desalinator which produces 1.5 gallons per hour
Clothing: Special lightweight oilskins complete with neoprene rubber seals at the neck and wrists to make them waterproof. Gore-Tex boots with gaiters will ensure MacArthur's feet stay dry throughout the voyage
Budget: About £2m

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston talked to Clare Rudebeck

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biomass Sales Consultant

£20000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Java Developer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My Client are a successful software hous...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

MS Dynamics NAV/Navision Developer

£45000 - £53000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS DYNAMICS N...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game