World War II
Born near the beginning of World War II, young Robin would grow up understanding the importance of Britain’s ships. Teenage boys often left their families to join the Merchant Navy, and Robin was no exception. In 1957, at age 18, this young adventurer left his Putney home and entered the world of sailing. It was a world he would fall in love with and dedicate his life to.
By the time he was 26, he was sailing his own 32’ Bermudan ketch, Suhaili, in his voyage from Bombay to England, which gave him a greater appetite for long range solo travel. In 1968, he entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Only nine experienced sailors signed on to attempt the nonstop trip that would send them around the world on their own. Sir Robin Knox Johnston was the only competitor to finish. He was 29.
Johnston’s Suhaili was one of the smallest boats in the world circumnavigation competition. Near Australia, his self-steering gear was lost. The trip took most of a year, and every other person dropped out at some stage of the race. Despite the hardships, Johnston not only finished the race, but he donated his winnings.
The inspiration that Johnston offers is astounding. One cannot quite imagine what it would be like to experience endless months at sea alone with a single goal in mind. This young man proved that the journey was possible through strong drive and focus. It would not be the last time that Johnston gained the world’s attention.
Through the following decades, Johnston earned public acclaim frequently through his sailing exploits. Wins in the Round Britain Race, Cape Town to Rio Race, and Whitbread Round the World Race ensured that Johnston’s name was continuously connected with success and ambition in sailing.
Jules Verne Trophy 1994
In 1994, he teamed up with long time sailing partner Peter Blake for the Jules Verne Trophy, earned for setting the fastest circumnavigation sailing time at just under 75 days. The time was a fraction of the time spent in Johnston’s first attempt back in 1968.
As an active player in the sailing industry throughout the decades, Johnston has served as president of the Sail Training Association, trustee of the National Maritime Museum, and president of the Cruising Association and Little Ship Club.
He has not let age slow him down. He continues to serve in different positions to support sailing, and he even still participates in races.
For the 2007 VELUX 5 Oceans Race, Johnston completed his second solo circumnavigation of the earth. He placed fourth and was the oldest competitor at age 68. At an age when most people are enjoying retirement, giving in to ailments, and resting peacefully in recliners, Johnston sailed around the world on his own.
He still was not done.
Route du Rhum
The Route du Rhum is a solo trans-Atlantic race that takes place in the fall. In 2014, the 75-year-old Robin Knox-Johnston entered his Open 60 Grey Power and completed the race in slightly over 20 days. Many wonder if he will ever slow down.
Through it all, Johnston has endured tragedy as well. His sweetheart from childhood, Suzanne, agreed to marry him in 1962. The struggle of maintaining a relationship while Johnston was often out at sea led the couple to divorce in 1967. True love proved unstoppable when the couple remarried in 1972. This pillar of support who had been with him for most of Johnston’s life, was taken by cancer in 2003. Rather than give in to grief, Johnston continues to find joy in the five grandchildren that resulted from their marriage.
One of the greatest sailors of all time
In the face of seemingly impossible challenges, personal burdens, and the passing of time, Robin Knox-Johnston has become world renowned as one of the greatest sailors of all time.