Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Book Review - A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

 Recently, chatting to a friend in the pub, I heard the story of sailor Donald Crowhurst for the first time. Said friend loaned me the DVD Deep Water which tells his story using vintage footage and contemporary interviews. It a tragic but fascinating story. When I mentioned it to author Mark Chisnell, who  revealed another brilliant true story with its roots in sailing in The Fulcrum Files, he recommended this book to me.

A Voyage for MadmenThe 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe race was open to all-comers. Two titles were available, one for the first non-stop solo circumnavigation of the world and one for the sailor who completed it the fastest. In a country that had watched rapt as Sir Francis Chichester returned to the UK having completed the first solo circumnavigation (with a stop in Sydney) the previous year this competition generated massive interest. The prize money of £5000 was no small sum at that time. Nine men took up the challenge, most of them relative novices, but only one completed the race. 

This book is the story of that race. It details the men, their boats, previous experience, preparations and their progress in the race. At the start of the book I was slightly concerned that a) I was going to struggle to keep the names of the participants, the boats and their progress straight in my mind and b) that it might turn out to be a bit dry and overly technical for someone who has never been sailing (although I do know some of the basic terms thanks to time on dive boats) I was proved wrong on both counts. Once the story started to gather momentum, when the competitors were beginning to get underway, I found myself engrossed. As events reduced the field by the latter stages the author was able to focus on Donald Crowhurst and Robin Knox-Johnston; for one the race results in tragedy, for the other there is a place in history. 

The narrative is clear and concise, and largely avoids getting too technical which made it accessible. However there is some amazing description of the challenges facing these men and there are philosophical and touching moments as they, and their families, face the consequences of their voyage. I was so moved I was almost in tears a couple of times. The author employs quotes from other books on the subject to great effect and I appreciated the pictures of the boats and competitors.

This is a true story that would probably be deemed unbelievable if it was a work of fiction, but not wanting to throw in any major spoilers you'd have to read the book (or google the race) to find out more about all the twists and turns. I loved this book even though I came away feeling very saddened by the outcome. It is an amazing story and one I'm glad to have found out so much more about.

Format: Hardback, from the library
Publisher: Profile Books
My rating: 5*

No comments: