- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (4 June 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060957034
- ISBN-13: 978-0732275921
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,53,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A Voyage for Madmen Paperback – 4 Jun 2002
|Paperback, 4 Jun 2002||
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“Fascinating...A great story...an excellent examination of the world’s first nonstop, solo race around the world.” (San Diego Union Tribune)
“Extraordinary ...One of the most gripping sea stories I have ever read.” (Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm)
About the Author
Peter Nichols is the author of the national bestseller A Voyage for Madmen and two other books, Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat, a memoir, and the novel Voyage to the North Star. He has taught creative writing at NYU in Paris and Georgetown University, and presently teaches at Bowdoin College. He is lives in Maine with his wife and son.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you have any experience as a sailor, captain or crew, this book is well worth the read.
It was a well written story about a race I had not heard of. Sailing around the world alone seems daunting and horrifically lonely which I think the author makes clear through all accounts.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, but it would only be to a certain crowd and I would not be able to say it was quite possibly the best book I had ever read. I seem to be in the miority on that so take it with a grain of salt.
Early in the book, Nichols refers to Anderson's "The Ulysses Factor" that Nichols describes as: "... the lone hero figure in society... who by his exploits stimulates powerful mass excitement... [This drive towards solo heroic feat] is a genetic instinct in all of us, but dormant in most. Yet, we respond vicariously to the evidence of in the few whom this instinct drives to unusual endeavors." However, after reading about these sailors, I felt the relevant Greek figure was Icarus. Ulysses is a competent hero, while Icarus is a delusional nut. And, the majority of the nine sailors were closer to the latter. Nichols referring to their surprising lack of experience stated: "They were not sportsmen or racing yachtsmen... They were hardcase egomaniacs driven by complex desires...[towards]... life-threatening endeavors."
Two among the nine had credible solo experience (Moitessier, Carozzo); another was a master mariner but not a solo yachtsman (Knox-Johnston); and, the remainders were surprisingly inexperienced. These included Crowhurst, a mediocre weekend sailor, who entered the race for the publicity it would bring his radio navigation device and his failing company. Crowhurst had never sailed on a trimaran before (his boat for the race). Meanwhile, Chay Blyth did not really know how to sail. When starting the race, he was lead by a friend in another boat who just told him to follow and imitate him for the first few miles to get the hang of it. Granted, earlier Blyth had crossed the Atlantic rowing with his friend Ridgway. In his first storm, Blyth lost complete control of his boat and states: "I turned to one of my sailing manuals to see what advice it contained for me. It was like being in hell with instructions."
The Icarus complex carries over to the participants' boats. You would expect them to have the best boats, far from it. Robin Knox-Johnston deemed his boat "Suhaili" all wrong for this race. It was too small and too heavy. Moitessier thought his boat "Joshua" may be disastrous in the rough waters around Cape Horn. Tefley stated about his trimaran "Victress": "I can think of nothing that was right about that boat for that race." However, all three men were stuck with their boats because of lack of sponsorship. Ridgway and Blyth identical boats were too short. And, Crowhurst who did raise the funds to develop a fast boat copied Tetley's "Victress" flawed trimaran design.
Robin Knox-Johnston was genuinely happy alone at sea. He had an intellectual drive and loaded his boat with tons of reading material such as textbooks in economics and calculus, and large tomes such as "War and Peace." Also, attaching himself with a line he would frequently swim in the ocean. He felt it kept him fit, clean, and in good spirit. This is something other sailors are frightened to do because of creatures in the ocean. He occasionally saw sharks. But, was not afraid and simply waited a while till they were gone to venture swimming again. About his early experience he states at one point: "I can think of no one with whom I'd trade my lot at present." Meanwhile, others were thrown into despair by the loneliness. At one point, Ridgway realized he had cried at some point for each of 27 consecutive days. However, later in the race even the happy Knox-Johnston became physically and mentally exhausted. The chronic gale storms in the Southern Ocean causing sleep deprivation and having to frequently repair the hull of his boat in 50 degree water used all the reserves he could muster.
Crowhurst was the most delusional. He thought he could circle around the World in only 130 days and record unheard of maximum average speed of 220 miles per day. He was so sure of his winning that he assigned to his main sponsor a second mortgage on his house and signed a guarantee that if he did not finish the race, he would reimburse his sponsor for the boat's price. Unless Crowhurst at least finished the race, his life would be ruined. Sailing his boat to his starting destination in England took him an amazingly slow 13 days at an average speed of only 23 miles per day. That was only 1/10th of the speed he thought this boat could achieve! On the last permitted day to start the race, his boat is not ready. But, he has no choice and starts anyway. This is a tragedy in the making. Only 15 days into the race, after making little ground going south in the Atlantic, his boat is in disrepair. He already considers quitting. But, given his financial bets (his sponsor would own his business and home if he did not finish the race) he plows forward. Later, Crowhurst communicated false position coordinates to claim a speed record of 243 miles per day. Sir Francis Chichester, who sailed around the world while stopping once, immediately expressed skepticism. Chichester knew that consistency translates into credibility. And, that a sailor just does not sail at less than 60 mpd for weeks and suddenly break speed record. But, the media wanted sensation and ignored Chichester. Meanwhile, Crowhurst continued to plot two sets of position logs, the real ones and the fraudulent ones. The discrepancy between the two sets grew to thousands of miles. The maintaining of the fraudulent logs, a demanding mathematical task, contributed to Crowhurst descent into madness. His boat in terrible disrepair, he lands in Brazil to repair it. He even confesses his scam by drawing a map of his real voyage. But, the locals don't understand it.
If Crowhurst was a fraud, Moitessier was the real deal. He showed sailing prouesse with numerous days over 182 mpd faster than anyone at the time. Stripping his heavy boat from superfluous baggage "Moitessier was getting closer ... to his idealized state of man and ship flying as one across the sea in a way few had ever approached... Not since Captain Nemo had a man felt so comfortable and self-sufficient at sea." Even more so than Knox-Johnston, as Moitessier's spirit never weakened through the entire race. He practiced yoga daily. He had so many sartori like moments including being escorted by a school of porpoises and later seeing the night lights of the aurora australis. Later, when he is sure to finish in record time and earn the first prize of 5,000 pounds; he abruptly decides to continue halfway around the World ultimately to shore in Tahiti instead of landing back in England. Moitessier had no tolerance for the expected media frenzy. He describes his spirit fully in his book The Long Way (Sheridan House). He is quoted saying: "I am continuing nonstop because I am happy at sea, and perhaps because I want to save my soul." By doing so, Moitessier let Knox-Johnston win the race.
As Tetley suffers a shipwreck only 1,000 miles from completion of the race, Crowhurst finds himself in the strange position of potentially winning the race for the fastest time. Crowhurst is painfully aware that Chichester will scrutinize and uncover his fraudulent logs. He is afraid of the ensuing shame. He descends into madness and writes 25,000 words of "passionately insane verbiage" in only 8 days. Eventually, he commits suicide by abandoning his boat. The boat will be recovered with his logs and writings intact. The press will eat that stuff up. And, Crowhurst shameful legacy will live on. Strangely, Tetley never quite recovered from the race either. He mounted an unsuccessful effort to raise fund for another go at sailing solo around the world. And, he committed suicide two years later.
Knox-Johnston became one of the most celebrated, famous, and rich yachtsman. Moitessier remained a very active but low profile sailor. Just two years after the race, Blyth will successfully sail around the world the "wrong way" handling all the prevailing winds and currents in the more challenging way. By, now he sure learned how to sail.