Lives of great men.

So, lets start today’s post with a challenge : which rock band recorded a track called “Lives of Great Men”, who wrote the original poem, and for the bonus question….who can complete the line ‘Lives of great men all……’ without Goolaging it ?

In a recent post i wrote my one and only film review about the film “The Mercy” which is a dramatised version of just the one competitor in the 1968 Golden Globe race.  Sadly his story is the only one that most people are even vaguely aware of today.  Go ask anyone today about the Golden Globe and most would only conflate that with some Hollyood narcissism and not an arcane sailing race from the late 1960’s.    Few people outside the small world of ocean racing will have ever heard of Robin Knox Johnston’ who actually won the race let alone Bernard Moitessier and Bill King just by way of example who were also 2 out of nine competitors in the race.  The second challenge for the sailing aficianado would be to name the others !

Today we seem to remember the race for all of the wrong reasons and i think have this strange idea that solo ocean racing, even ocean cruising’ is just for ‘mad’ people or that it will drive people ‘mad’.  That comes from a ‘professional’ opinion at the time of the Golden Globe race ie  that a long period of isolation would be unsustainable to any normal person.       Furthermore  that anyone attempting it would break down and ultimately that the example of Donald Crowhurst proves the point.  This is of course deeply incorrect and even the shallowest look at Knox-Jonhnston, Moitessier and Bill king would show just how wrong that view is.    Robin Knox-Johnston claims that he was interviewed by a psychologist before and after the race and declared to be “boringly normal”.


I was left very unsatisfied by my own post about the subject because i felt that all i had done was fall into the same trap and perpetuated the same narrow, although true, story and neither said enough about the other competitors or even enough about the larger subject of the mind of the sailor at sea.  Small experience  by comparison but even i have had to deal with breakdown’s and melt-down’s at sea even aboard fully crewed boats.  Today i study psychology as seriously as an amateur and non-student can, i also believe that i have enough practical experience in long distance sailing and enough personal insight to add some things of value.  I did initially write a much longer post with those things in mind but edited it back to as straightforward a story as i could so of course it leaves me with a sense of dissatisfaction or non-completion.

I would certainly like to redress the imbalance of that post by covering more of the characters in the race and that’s why i am writing this post as an introduction to future posts about “Lives of great men”.   I was fortunate to meet and spend time talking with Knox Johnston just as i completed a circumnavigation and  i later met Chay Blyth who dropped out of the same race.  I never did get to meet the one competitor that i most respected for what he did (Moitessier) or the one who i thought had done the most thinking about long distance ‘simple’ ocean sailing ie Commander Bill King.  In the past i have written about one of my all-time sailing hero’s ie Eric Tabarly and i now intend to add RKJ , Moitessier and King to that tally.

Commander Bill King.


Today’s post is just this short introduction but i want to finish with a crucial sea story from the Golden Globe race.  One of Crowhurst’s self-perceived problems is that he didn’t trust his boat and he was genuinely frightened of going into the Southern Ocean.  He said in his logbook that he gave himself only a 50/50 chance of survival down there. Well the simple and short story is that Nigel Tetley was sailing a very similar boat, also a trimaran, he did go down there and should be celebrated for that act of seamanship.  I have always wondered if it weighed on Crowhurst’s mind that Tetley faced down the same and very real fear that he experienced and completed his southern ocean passage in good order while Crowhurst  stewed in his own cowardice.

Nigel Tetley.



  1. For me…Moitissier was the ‘winner’. Knox J had no ‘love’ of the sea…he just didn’t want a frenchman to claim the title. I read ‘the long route’ many years ago and I was struck that for M it was a spiritual journey. The race became an opportunity to becone ‘one’ with the understand and feel it’s moods and rythems. Chay Blyth cared little for the ocean…he was just a blaggard that sought fame by being the first to do this or that…


    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. Iv’e always been a bit wary of Moitessier compared to the very pragmatic nature of Knox-Johnston. I think that RKJ does have a love for the sea but it just doesn’t come across in the same way. Of all of them i admire Bill King the most and i covered him in a separate post.


      1. I read a few years ago…’a race for madmen’…I think it was called. A great book that covered all the competitors in pretty good depth as well as the race. RKJ gave his £5000 prize to Crowhursts widow which deserves a lot of respect and rarely if ever gets mentioned. I may be wrong but didn’t Bill King commit suicide by hanging himself in a tree years later?


      2. That wasn’t Cmdr Bill King. You are thinking about Nigel Tetley. I have a lot of time for Knox-Johnston whom i have met and spoken with, a lot less time for Chay Blyth.


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