Message from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston – 1971 line honours skipper

Prior to our announcement this past weekend we made contact with the first ever line honours winner of the Cape to Rio Race held in 1971. We asked Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, first man ever to sail single handed non-stop around the world to recount for us his memories of the race. This is what he had to say …..
“I flew out to join the boat in Cape Town. Ocean Spirit had gone ashore on the skeleton coast on the way down and our first task was to make repairs to her keel. which we did ourselves. We were joined for the race by the British TV cook and subsequently an MP, Clement Freud who took charge of victualling. At 71 feet were out for Line honours for being first into Rio de Janeiro as we did not rate well under IOR. Thus our main competition was the Canadian Maxi “Greybeard”.
To psych the position I started the crew making a run each evening just about sunset, to give the impression that we were trying to hide our keep fit regime from the other boats. Of course the whole idea was that they would see us and worry about how fit they were themselves!
The race started in Table Bay with a following wind, and we kept the spinnaker up for the next 8 days, swapping its halyards regularly. The crew, extremely well fed, began to put on weight with this easy sailing, so I introduced a gymnastic deck regime to try and keep them fit. We listened to the updates each evening from SAN Tafelberg and quickly realised there were three different strategies being followed. We took a route close to the Great Circle, but kept watching the position of the South Atlantic High Pressure system which dictated the tactics.
As everyone knows, The South Atlantic High moves around. To go south of it meant headwinds, going through it meant calms. the choice was how close you went north of it, the further north, and further from the centre of the high the stronger the favourable winds. At one stage the boats to the north of us were certainly going faster, and those to the south of us doing rather well, and on their IOR rating doing very well. We held our nerve and eventually picked up the North Easterly winds the other side of the High pressure system, and raced in towards Rio.
Some 8 days from the finish Clement Freud told us that we could eat steaks, lamb chops, pork, or venison for dinner that evening. I asked why we had such a wonderful choice and was told that the dry ice had run out so we had to make one choice for that evening as after that there would be no choice.
We thought we had the lead but you can never tell until you have crossed the finish line, and, of course, as so often is the case, the wind drops so you drift in. But we found we had arrived first. Greybeard arrived almost a day later and rafted up for a party.”
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
October 2020

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