Writer and photographer Barry Picthall, Chair of the Yachting Journalists’ Association, was our March speaker. He won their “Journalist of the Year Award” in 2008, was Yachting Correspondent on The Times for two decades, and it was meeting Robin Knox-Johnston, back in the 70’s, that proved seminal in sparking his lifelong interest in yacht racing.
Barry showed a short, shaky and blurred film of the start of original 1968/9 Golden Globe race, the first round-the-world solo non-stop race. Although shot a mere (I give my age away here!) 50 years ago, the movie came across as belonging to another era entirely. That first Golden Globe had followed Frances Chichester’s historic 66/67 one-stop single-handed circumnavigation.
Barry had (more-or-less) complimentary anecdotes to offer about many of characters of those days: Bernard Moitessier, Robin Knox-Johnston, Éric Tabarly, Bill King. Barry’s take on Chay Blyth and John Ridgeway was that, as paras, they had been trained to believe they could do anything, regardless of previous experience. Chay had no experience of sailing at all when he set out that first time across the Atlantic, in an “unsuitable boat” (pace Chipping Norton Yacht Club Members David and Helen, in our audience that evening, who have also crossed the Atlantic and back in a similar 30ft bilge-keeled Kingfisher.)
One competitor in the 1968/9 Golden Globe was the ill-fated Donald Crowhurst, about whom the movie “Mercy” was recently shown in The Chipping Norton Theatre. A sad tale of a man boxed in by circumstance who reached the end of his tether.
The 2018 Golden Globe race is “retro”- recreating the ethos of the original. Telecommunications will be limited and only 32 to 36 ft production boats of traditional design with a standard rig may be entered. Navigation is to be by hand, nous and eye (sextant, paper charts, and chronometer) – although each boat will carry a “safety box” of electronics to be opened in an emergency. This time competitors must have sailing experience, unlike some notable participants in the original race.
The 2018 race is sadly not starting from the UK but from Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, with a pre-gathering in Falmouth to keep an element of tradition going. Barry extended a welcome to members of Chipping Norton Yacht Club, some of whom very much hope to make it.
How have things really changed? Communication technology, for one. Bernard Moitessier fired message canisters by catapult to passing ships; many competitors had no radio, or none that worked. This made the disposition of boats during a race uncertain – allowing Crowhurst to stay hidden, giving false positions and hoping to re-join the race as an “also-ran” so his logs would not be scrutinised. And Nigel Tetley would not have driven his trimaran to destruction, thinking he had Crowhurst on his tail.
What has not changed? According to Barry, the common factor is not the ferocity or loneliness of the oceans: it’s being ready and making it to the start. That, he opined, was and remains the hardest part of the whole daunting exercise.
Barry clearly shares our fascination with boats and the sea and is a relaxed and entertaining raconteur. He’s rubbed shoulders with most of the greats in global yacht racing and been directly involved with covering the events at the time. A most illuminating and engrossing talk!