A world of my own, Robin Knox-Johnson

This book was borrowed from Mandy’s mum, a proper sewn hardback with solid covers, dated 1969. The texture of the paper and fantastic photos in that washed out early colour effect adds to the feeling of a place in time no longer with us. It smells old too, that musty yellowing smell reminiscent of Victorian school buildings still in use today.
I was struck from the start by how old school everything is, from the Merchant Navy and jobs in India to the family home in Kent and lead paint on the main stays. It all seems to hark back to a period of innocence and simplicity when decisions about life must have worked themselves out without too much trouble. Think post war Britain, Secondary Modern, Technical colleges and those huge art deco buildings around Brentford on the way to the M4. Men in stiff cotton suits and cycle clips riding bicycles, smoking pipes and stopping for ale at the Queens head. This is the England that John Major fantasised about us returning to, Cricket on the green and a Grammar school in the next town, the soundtrack by Holst.

A world of my own documents the first single handed voyage around the globe in a yacht. It’s all fairly simple to grasp, he leaves Falmouth on the 14 June 1969 and returns on the 22 April 1969 after navigating the whole planet. Down the coast of Africa using the South East Trade Winds, round the Cape of Good Hope and along the Roaring Forties to Australia. Once there it’s all the way to Cape Horn and back up through the doldrums to home.

It is an incredible story that benefits from the authors straight talking attitude and no nonsense approach to often life threatening situations. His resourcefulness in the face of adversity bordered on genius, there was simply nothing that he couldn’t mend with whatever was lying around or came close to hand.

It really is proper boys annual stuff that includes shooting sharks and climbing the mast in a force 6. On an occasion when the hull needed repairing he simply jumped over the side attached to a rope and did what he could. After dragging himself out of the freezing South Atlantic he warmed up the way that he does throughout the book, by downing a cup of Whiskey. Great! On another occasions when hot and bored he’d simply jump over the side and exercise himself by trying to keep up with the boat, 2000 miles from land in any direction. Whilst actually being quite amusing the expression, ‘Eccentric’ springs to mind.

I liked also his down to earth attitude towards sailing and slight contempt for sailing types and Gin palaces. He openly admits to not understanding a lot of yacht club conversations, and I found this added to the oddity of the whole thing. As such, everything is explained so that land types like me can understand it.

The old style Grammar school language with which the book is written is actually quite funny. In any other context I would have got no further than the first chapter, but considering the job in hand the language lends itself well to the task of trying to make a cup of tea in a storm.

Exciting stuff from start to finish. The camaraderie between ships on the high seas, toasting the Queen on Christmas day and hanging on for dear life in a storm. Great pictures too.

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