In , Donald Crowhurst was trying to market a nautical navigation device he had developed, and saw the Sunday Times Golden Globe round the world sailing race as the perfect opportunity to showcase his product. Few people knew that he wasn't an experienced deep-water sailor. His progress was so slow that he decided to short-cut the journey, while falsifying his location through radio messages from his supposed course. Everyone following the race thought that he was winning, and a hero's welcome awaited him at home in Britain. But on 10 July , eight months after he set off, his wife was told that his boat had been discovered drifting in mid-Atlantic.
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Donald Charles Alfred Crowhurst — July was a British businessman and amateur sailor who died while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race , a single-handed , round-the-world yacht race. Soon after departing, his ship began taking on water and he wrote it would probably sink in heavy seas. He secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to complete a circumnavigation without actually doing so.
His ship's log books, found after his disappearance, suggest that the stress he was under possibly led to his suicide.
Crowhurst's convoluted, and ultimately tragic participation in the race has exerted a fascination over subsequent generations of commentators and artists and has inspired a number of books, stage plays, and movies, among the latter a factual documentary " Deep Water ", the movie " Crowhurst ", and the film " The Mercy ".
His innovative but ill-prepared boat, the Teignmouth Electron , ended its days as a dive boat in the Caribbean, and its decaying remains can still be found in the dunes above a beach in the Cayman Islands. Crowhurst was born in in Ghaziabad , British India.
During her pregnancy, his mother had longed for a daughter, and Crowhurst was dressed as a girl until the age of seven. The family's retirement savings were invested in an Indian sporting goods factory, which later burned down during rioting after the Partition of India.
Crowhurst's father died in Due to family financial problems, he was forced to leave school early and started a five-year apprenticeship at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough Airfield.
In he received a Royal Air Force commission as a pilot,  but was asked to leave in for reasons that remain unclear,  and was subsequently commissioned into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in He was active in his local community as a member of the Liberal Party and was elected to Bridgwater Borough Council.
Crowhurst, a weekend sailor, designed and built a radio direction finder called the Navicator, a handheld device that allowed the user to take bearings on marine and aviation radio beacons. In an effort to gain publicity, he started trying to gain sponsors to enter the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. His main sponsor was English entrepreneur Stanley Best, who had invested heavily in Crowhurst's failing business.
Once committed to the race, Crowhurst mortgaged both his business and home against Best's continued financial support, placing himself in a grave financial situation. The Golden Globe Race was inspired by Francis Chichester 's successful single-handed round-the-world voyage, stopping in Sydney. The Sunday Times had sponsored Chichester, with highly profitable results, and was interested in being involved with the first non-stop circumnavigation, but it had the problem of not knowing which sailor to sponsor.
The solution was to promote the Golden Globe Race, a single-handed, round-the-world race, open to all comers, with automatic entry. That was in contrast to other races of the time, for which entrants were required to demonstrate their single-handed sailing ability prior to entry.
Entrants were required to start between 1 June and 31 October , to pass through the Southern Ocean in summer. Crowhurst hired Rodney Hallworth , a crime reporter for the Daily Mail and then the Daily Express , as his public relations officer. Trimarans have the potential to sail much more quickly than monohulled sailboats , but early designs in particular could be very slow if overloaded, and had considerable difficulty sailing close to the wind.
Trimarans are popular with many sailors for their stability, but if capsized for example by a rogue wave , they are virtually impossible to right, though crews have lived for months with a boat in the inverted position and ultimately survived.
To improve the safety of the boat, Crowhurst had planned to add an inflatable buoyancy bag on the top of the mast to prevent capsizing; the bag would be activated by water sensors on the hull designed to detect an impending capsize. This innovation would hold the mast horizontal on the surface of the water, and a clever arrangement of pumps would allow him to flood the uppermost outer hull, which would in conjunction with wave action pull the boat upright.
His scheme was to prove these devices by sailing round the world with them, then go into business manufacturing the system. However, Crowhurst had a very short time in which to build and equip his boat while securing financing and sponsors for the race. In the end, all of his safety devices were left uncompleted; he planned to complete them while under way.
Also, many of his spares and supplies were left behind in the confusion of the final preparations. To top all this, Crowhurst had never sailed on a trimaran before taking delivery of his boat several weeks before the beginning of the race. Crowhurst had fallen into the water several times while in Cowes, and as he and Eden climbed aboard Teignmouth Electron , he once again ended up in the water after slipping on the outboard bracket on the stern of the rubber dinghy.
Eden's description of his two days with Crowhurst provides the most expert independent assessment available for both boat and sailor before the start of the race. He recalls that the trimaran sailed immensely swiftly, but could get no closer to the wind than 60 degrees. The speed often reached 12 knots, but the vibrations encountered caused the screws on the Hasler self-steering gear to come loose.
Eden said, "We had to keep leaning over the counter to do up the screws. It was a tricky and time consuming business. I told Crowhurst he should get the fixings welded if he wanted it to survive a longer trip!
Eden reported that Crowhurst's sailing techniques were good, "But I felt his navigation was a mite slapdash. I prefer, even in the Channel, to know exactly where I am. He didn't take too much bother with it, merely jotting down figures on a few sheets of paper from time to time. There were 16 days to get ready before the race's deadline on 31 October. Crowhurst left from Teignmouth , Devon, on the last day permitted by the rules: 31 October In the first few weeks he was making less than half of his planned speed.
Crowhurst was thus faced with the choice of either quitting the race and facing financial ruin and humiliation or continuing to an almost certain death in his unseaworthy, disappointing boat. Over the course of November and December , the hopelessness of his situation pushed him into an elaborate deception. He shut down his radio with a plan to loiter in the South Atlantic for several months while the other boats sailed the Southern Ocean, falsify his navigation logs, then slip back in for the return leg to England.
As last-place finisher, he assumed his false logs would not receive the same scrutiny as those of the winner. Since leaving, Crowhurst had been deliberately ambiguous in his radio reports of his location. Starting on 6 December , he continued reporting vague but false positions; rather than continuing to the Southern Ocean , he sailed erratically in the southern Atlantic Ocean and stopped once in South America to make repairs to his boat, in violation of the rules.
A great deal of the voyage was spent in radio silence, while his supposed position was inferred by extrapolation based on his earlier reports. By early December, based on his false reports, he was being cheered worldwide as the likely winner of the fastest circumnavigation prize, though Francis Chichester privately expressed doubts about the plausibility of Crowhurst's progress.
After rounding the tip of South America in early February, Moitessier had made a dramatic decision in March to drop out of the race and to sail on towards Tahiti. The pressure on Crowhurst had therefore increased, since he now looked certain to win the "elapsed time" race. If he appeared to have completed the fastest circumnavigation , his log books would be closely examined by experienced sailors, including the experienced and sceptical Chichester, and the deception would probably be exposed.
It is also likely that he felt guilty about undermining Tetley's genuine circumnavigation so near its completion. He had by this time begun to make his way back as if he had rounded Cape Horn. Crowhurst ended radio transmissions on 29 June. The last logbook entry is dated 1 July. Teignmouth Electron was found adrift, unoccupied, on 10 July. Crowhurst's behaviour as recorded in his logs indicates a complex and troubled psychological state. His commitment to fabricating the voyage reports seems incomplete and self-defeating, as he reported unrealistically fast progress that was sure to arouse suspicion.
By contrast, he spent many hours painstakingly constructing false log entries, often more difficult to complete than real entries due to the celestial navigation research required. The last several weeks of his log entries, once he was facing the real possibility of winning the prize, showed increasing irrationality.
In the end, his writings during the voyage — poems, quotations, real and false log entries, and random thoughts — amounted to more than 25, words. The log books include an attempt to construct a philosophical reinterpretation of the human condition that would provide an escape from his impossible situation. It appeared the final straw was the impossibility of a noble way out after Tetley sank, meaning he would win the prize and hence his logs would be subject to scrutiny.
His last log entry was on 1 July ; it is assumed that he then either fell or jumped overboard and drowned. The state of the boat gave no indication that it had been overrun by a rogue wave, or that any accident had occurred which might have caused Crowhurst to fall overboard. He may have taken with him a single deceptive log book and the ship's clock. Three log books two navigational logs and a radio log and a large mass of other papers were left on his boat to communicate his philosophical ideas and to reveal his actual navigational course during the voyage.
The boat was found with the mizzen sail up. Although his biographers, Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, discounted the possibility that some sort of food poisoning contributed to his mental deterioration, they acknowledged that there is insufficient evidence to rule it, or several other hypotheses, out. Clare Crowhurst, Donald's widow, strongly disputed the theory put forward by Tomalin and Hall regarding the circumstances of her husband's deception and demise, accusing them of mixing fiction with fact.
In a letter to the The Times published on July 10, , she contended that there was no evidence that her husband had intended to write a fake logbook none was in fact found , that his death could equally have been as the result of misadventure such as an accident while climbing the mast, which a logbook entry showed that he intended to do before June 30 , and also that Tomalin believed that "all heroes are neurotics, and starting off with this theory, he has sought to prove it by the history of Donald from the earliest age until his death".
Teignmouth Electron was found adrift and abandoned on 10 July by the RMV Picardy , at latitude 33 degrees 11 minutes North and longitude 40 degrees 26 minutes West. Examination of his recovered logbooks and papers revealed the attempt at deception, his mental breakdown and eventual presumed suicide. This was reported in the press at the end of July, creating a media sensation. Teignmouth Electron was later taken to Jamaica and was sold several times, being re-purposed and re-fitted, first as a cruise boat in Montego Bay and later as a dive boat in the Cayman Islands , before being hauled out following a minor incident in but later damaged by a hurricane and never repaired.
The boat still lies decaying on the southwest shore of Cayman Brac. Had Crowhurst finished the race, his fake coordinates would undoubtedly have been exposed and he would have been treated as a hoaxer on a grand scale, in addition to being in probable financial ruin. Either way, near contemporary accounts of his actions were not particularly sympathetic; the book "The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst" by two Sunday Times journalists is described as "largely unflattering" in a recent account.
It was a case of over-reach, it was hubris and that is what caused the tragedy of his demise. You don't have to have been to sea, you don't have to be a sailor, you don't have to be an explorer. You don't even have to have taken on anything particularly extreme in the obvious sense.
I think people will recognise what it feels like to go further than you are truly able to, to take on something ambitious, risky and really dare to make a gesture like that in their lives, even if it's just in their relationships. I think they'll also recognise the idea of having rather random things seem to conspire against them. There are very few stories that really deal with that.
The traps that one can get into are so gradual and incremental that you don't see them until they're too big to do anything about. From my own life, that moment I should have turned back, is never something I can identify except in retrospect. I think when we were looking into this story, all the details, all the preparations, all the things that were going wrong, all the things that conspired against one particular individual, these would be the stories that applied to the heroes that we celebrate.
Every time you hear about the guy who reached the top of Everest, the whole space programme or the first man to cross the desert or the ocean, if you study the stories of their preparation there were always things going wrong I just had to accept at face value what he said about it himself.
But I think that by not accepting the challenge that it would have affected something within him. It makes sense to me. I think he did have the ability to do it. He had more ability than most of us to create the possibility in terms of boat design, in terms of his sailing ability and in terms of his navigational ability. Things just went wrong.
S imon Crowhurst was eight when he saw his father for the last time. He remembers going out with the rest of the family in a motor boat, to the yacht his father was sailing around the world. Simon was nine when he learned his father had died. Then she broke down in tears. On 31 October , the last day the rules allowed, he set off in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race , a competition to be the first person to sail nonstop single-handedly around the world. He was underprepared and underfunded; his 35ft boat was unsuitable and leaky, no match for the monster waves of the Southern Ocean. He never reached the Southern Ocean.
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst
This is a wonderful book about a truly remarkable, moving and literally tragic misadventure. The Bard himself could not have scripted a tragedy better than this. His plan to win, cobbled together from a standing start in six months, is to use an at the time almost unheard-of design: the trimaran, substantially of his own specification. No matter that, a weekend yachtsman, Crowhurst has never been out of the Solent and has no realistic chance of beating the hoary old sea-dogs, renowned explorers and ex-navy officers already signed up for the race.
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst - Book review
The Sailor's Classics library introduces a new generation of readers to the best books ever written about small boats under sail. In the autumn of , Donald Crowhurst set sail from England to participate in the first single-handed nonstop around-the-world sailboat race. Eight months later, his boat was found in the mid-Atlantic, intact but with no one on board. In this gripping reconstruction, journalists Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall tell the story of Crowhurst's ill-fated voyage. In , lone sailor Donald Crowhurst on his trimaran Teignmouth Electron was supposed to be sailing home to a heroes welcome in England having won a highly publicized around the world race. A good read about the infamous Crowhurst mystery and an interesting insight into his character. His lack of preparation and readiness for the challenge ahead in all areas are obvious in the book