Stuart Alexander: A nautical knight with a contempt for modern gadgetry

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The Independent Online

His crinkly eyes, crinkly grey beard and hair, and crusty retorts are well-known party features at the more Establishment end of yachting.

But if you want a Heath Robinson compass fashioned from a bit of a lamp, a piece of string, and a magnetic screwdriver, RKJ is your man. He has forced himself out of the near-19th century approach to coaxing himself and a decidedly non-racing boat around the world almost into the 21st century. But practical seamanship is more his game, though he has raced big catamarans and set a Jules Verne record with Sir Peter Blake in Enza.

His contempt for modern electronic gadgetry lurks not far beneath the surface and he is far closer in pioneering culture to that other nautical knight and aviation adventurer, Sir Francis Chichester, than he is to modern solo aces.

Robin Knox-Johnston was alone, apart from the occasional crackly contact with any nearby commercial shipping. To cope with that could need, or cause, a retreat into solitude – look what it did to fellow Golden Globe competitor Donald Crowhurst – but Sir Robin has remained gregarious, if sometimes avuncular.

His participation in the single-handed Velux 5-Oceans stopping race around the world at the age of 68 was testament to his stubbornness, and his 70th birthday party last month at the Royal Yacht Squadron was, if not raucous, determinedly joyous.

Stuart Alexander is The Independent's sailing correspondent

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