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Sailing: Knox-Johnston sets sail again after 37 years

It is 37 years since Robin Knox-Johnston became the first man single-handedly circumnavigate the Earth non-stop.

But at the age of 67, he is returning to the seas for his first solo race since he beat the renowned French yachtsman Bernard Moitessier to the round-the-world Golden Globe title in 1969.

Sir Robin set off yesterday from Bilbao in Spain at the start of the 30,000-mile Velux 5 Oceans race, the oldest sailor of eight competitors from six countries.

He said he was prompted to take on the challenge by the death of his wife, Suzanne, from ovarian cancer three years ago. Their daughter, Sarah, and three grandchildren saw him off.

But he was being realistic about his chances, claiming to be the least prepared of the skippers in contention.

When he took 313 days to sail the world last time, he had only a radio for company, which broke, leaving the outside world to presume him dead until he arrived back in Falmouth, Cornwall, the only sailor to finish.

This time he has the benefit of the computer programming that governs modern boats but joked that he needed to learn how to use them. "I have got it all in writing and I will study it when I go out to sea along with Sailing for Beginners.

"The weather is not looking at all nice as there are gales at the start, but that's racing."

Sir Robin, who was born in London but now lives in Newton Abbot, Devon, has also had to deal with a fractured coccyx after a recent fall on his boat, the 60-foot Saga Insurance.

The race is a gruelling adventure in which the sailors can grab only short sleep breaks as they travel south down the Atlantic, past the Cape of Good Hope and stop at Fremantle in Western Australia.

They then head across the Southern Ocean, where the biggest danger is icebergs, around the infamous Cape Horn and north up to Norfolk, Virginia, in the United States. The third and final leg is the return journey across the Atlantic back to Bilbao by April next year - when Sir Robin will turn 68 on the 17th.

In addition to taking the Golden Globe title in 1969, he triumphed in the Round Britain Race twice and, with Peter Blake, won the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994 for the fastest circumnavigation of the world, in just under 75 days.