On 22nd April 1969, a third year student in London, I watched Robin Knox-Johnson return to Falmouth on television.
His feat made a lasting impression. Like Sir Francis Chichester, he represented a spirit of adventure born of individual skill and personal endeavour. The essence of the achievement? No large back-up team, no communication for much of the voyage, no modern navigational aids – one man running with the elements, (and often against them).
Nowadays, it is difficult to describe his achievement without dropping into the world of spin and hype. They have stolen all the superlatives. Too much has been attributed too often to lesser deeds.You have to read his story in his own words to understand the man and the task.
And, for the rest of us, whatever our sailing ambition, he will be one who went before.
Are there words that sign-post what he did that may work for us now?
Napoleon Hill showed a feel for it early last century when he wrote:
“Whatever you want, oh discontented man, step up. Pay the price – and take it.”
Sir Robin stepped up, paid the price with perseverance and stamina and took his prize – the first to sail non-stop solo round the world.
Because he showed the trip was possible, others have followed with increasing confidence – as well as with many, many more technical aids, and achieved successes of their own
Now, forty years on, general expectations are such that completing a solo navigation goes largely unmentioned – you have to be a record-breaker (or fail spectacularly) to get noticed.
But remember this: taking the prize may be the headline, but it’s the stepping-up and paying the price that’s the real challenge. And that’s the Knox-Johnson legacy.
All power to him this anniversary.