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News > Profiles of Old Berkhamstedians > Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston

The first man to sail solo non-stop around the world in a record-breaking voyage.


In 1968, the British newspaper The Sunday Times announced the award of a trophy, the Golden Globe, for the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. On 14th June 1968, Robin Knox-Johnston (St. John's, '56) was the third of nine to set sail from Falmouth, on his wooden yacht 'Suhaili' not knowing whether his boat or any person could even achieve this incredible journey.

By the time Suhaili passed the Cape of Good Hope she had already been knocked down, her water tanks polluted and her radio out of action. For the next eight and a half months, the only contact was when sighted from the shore or by a solitary ship. Weather forecasts too were unattainable, his reliance being placed on a baromter removed from a public house, the clouds and the wind direction, but this did not help to warn of deeper storms as they approcached. More storms followed as Suhali made her way through the Southern Ocean, sails were torn, the main goosneck broke and, off Australia, her steering finally gave up the ghost.

The waves in the Southern Ocean are the largest to be found anywhere in the world. One of the largest RKJ saw during the voyage was, perhaps, 25 metres high but it had built up into a wall, breaking at the crest. RKJ was on deck as it suddenly reared up half a mile astern, and by the time its true proportions were clear it was too late to seek shelter below. He climbed the rigging and hung on as the stern reared up and the wave crashed over the boat leaving nothing visible below him except foaming water with two masts sticking out. 

On 5th April 1969, he called the British Tanker 'Mobil Acme' with a signal lamp, and reported Suhaili's position off the Azores, the first news for more than four and a half months.

Suhaili sailed back into Falmouth Harbour on 22nd April 1969 to be greeted by the Customs Officials with the traditional demand of "Where from?". The single word answer was "Falmouth". She arrvied, battered, after 312 days at sea, with RKJ having become the first person to ever sail non-stop around the world single-handed and, up to then, the lengthiest voyage ever made.

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's subsequent achievements have been numerous but just a couple of highlights are:

1977/8 he skippered the British maxi 'Heath's Condor' to line honours in two legs of the Whitbread Round the World Race.
1994 saw him co-skipper the giant catamaran 'ENZA New Zealand' with the late Peter Blake to take the Jules Verne Trophy in 1994 for the fastest circumnavigation around the world - a feat that won him his knighthood.
2006/7 at the age of 68, he set out on yet another solo circumnavigation and finished a highly credited 4th in the Velux 5 Oceans race. Uniquely, Knox-Johnston has been voted UK Yachtsman of the Year three times, was named ISAF Sailor of the Year 1994, and in 2007 was one of the first inductees into the ISAF Hall of Fame.
2012 Olympic Torch Bearer for the London 2012 Olympic Games, around Cutty Sark, Greenwich.
2019 50th Anniversary celebrating Robin's return to Falmouth (Click to read the Falmouth Packet's report of the event, and see a photo gallery of the celebrations.)

As Chairman of Clipper Ventures plc, Sir Robin now inspires others to race around the world in a fleet of identical yachts.

Sir Robin has continued to support the school since he left, sponsoring the Knox-Johnston Award which is a tall ship sailing experience awarded to lucky Sixth Formers every year. He is also actively involved in the Old Berkhamstedian Sailing Club.


Photo gallery

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