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The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst Paperback – May 21, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


"The sea drama of the century."-Sir Francis Chichester "A masterpiece."-The New Yorker "Fascinating, uncomfortable reading."-Hammond Innes "Wholly riveting, superbly professional, brilliantly researched, and presented with the sort of critical compassion that is the mark of really fine journalism. It was quite a new sort of book to me, and it cost me an entire night's sleep."-James Cameron "The extraordinary story...Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall...tell brilliantly, with commendable consideration and compassion for all concerned; especially for Crowhurst and his wife Clare, For me their narrative goes with the essential documents of our time."-Malcolm Muggeridge "One of the most extraordinary stories about the sea ever to be published."-The Washington Post

From the Publisher

What Are “The Sailor’s Classics?”

No one meets the ocean on quite such intimate terms as the sailor in a small boat. No one experiences a solitude more absolute than that encountered by long-distance single-handed sailors like Joshua Slocum or Bernard Moitessier. Since the early nineteenth century, when Byron and Shelley put to sea in their own boats in order to set themselves adrift in nature at its most turbulent and unruly, writing and sailing have gone hand in hand.

There have been writers who sailed—Wilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Jack London, E.B. White, William Golding, John Barth, Thomas McGuane, Geoffrey Wolff—along with a multitude of sailors who wrote, from Slocum and John Voss to Tristan Jones and the father-son team of Daniel and David Hays. After nearly two hundred years, the literature of small-boat voyaging under sail is enormous, and every publishing season sees more additions to the list.

It is the function of The Sailor’s Classics to recognize and celebrate the relatively small number of truly important books in this library. Some have been chosen because the voyages they describe are themselves of unignorable merit; some because the sheer brilliance of their writing demands their inclusion. Most combine in equal parts serious nautical interest with literary excellence.

As general editor of the series, I am always trying to keep in mind the bookshelves on my own 35-foot ketch. A proper ship’s library isn’t restricted to books with boats in them, of course; I wouldn’t happily set sail for more than a day or two without novels by Dickens, Trollope, Evelyn Waugh, and Saul Bellow, and poetry by Pope, Keats, Tennyson, Hardy, Philip Larkin, and Robert Lowell. The big question is which small-boat voyages can stand up in such exalted literary company? Not very many is the honest answer, and half the function of an editor is to know what he must reject. The books that won’t figure in the series are as important as those that will.

We won’t be publishing quaint curiosities. Period charm does not make a classic, and though I have a soft spot for, say, Nathaniel Bishop’s Four Months in a Sneak Box (1879), and an even softer one for Maurice Griffiths’ The Magic of the Swatchways (1932), they won’t be found in The Sailor’s Classics. Nor will the many salty “yarns” full of the faded yo-ho-ho of generations past. Whimsical accounts of family vacations afloat (the obligatory adventure with the dog and the dinghy...) will be left to gather dust in peace. So will all those melancholy solo voyages in which the writers go to sea in order to discover themselves.

There remain the books whose vigor has not dimmed with the passage of time, whose voice is as alive and meaningful now as it was on their first publication—the books that should be essential reading for every literate sailor. No. 2 in the series is Richard Maury’s The Saga of Cimba, first published in 1939; No. 4 is The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, first published in 1971. They are perfect examples of what I mean: one a loving close-up portrait of the sea in all its moods, written by a master mariner with an astonishing literary gift; the other a study, by two journalists, of a man who lost touch with reality during the course of the first singlehanded round-the-world yacht race. Each—in its very different way—is an indispensable book. Each contributes an important thread to the larger pattern in the carpet, which is the great, various, and intricate design of the literature of small-boat sailing.

The Sailor’s Classics will surprise our readers with its richness and complexity. Since Homer’s Odyssey, the voyage has supplied one of the classic forms in literature—both as a grand metaphor for life itself in the long passage from birth to death, and as a sequence of tests and adventures. Equally, the boat (and especially the small boat) has long stood as a symbol of selfhood—a fragile ark bearing the journeying soul to its destination. Hilaire Belloc put the matter beautifully in The Cruise of the Nona:

The cruising of a boat here and there is very much what happens to the soul of a man in a larger way... We are granted great visions, we suffer intolerable tediums, we come to no end of the business, we are lonely out of sight of England, we make astonishing landfalls—and the whole rigmarole leads us along no whither, and yet is alive with discovery, emotion, adventure, peril and repose. Those five nouns should be emblazoned above The Sailor’s Classics: it is from the interweaving of discovery, emotion, adventure, peril, and repose that the pattern of sailing literature is made, and we shall do our best to honor each and every one in our selection of the best books ever written about life aboard small boats at sea. Jonathan Raban
Series Editor
March 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Series: The Sailor's Classics
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press; 1 edition (May 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071414290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071414296
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 43 customer reviews
This is a fascinating true story.
Brian Christensen
This is an unforgettable tale of how one man's failure to accomplish his dream led to insanity and self destruction.
Theodore Treadwell (Diodor@aol.com)
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in this story or sailing in general.
B. Cross

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Konrei on March 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
A true "Sailor's Classic." Reading this book it is impossible not to feel compassion for Donald Crowhurst who set out to win the Golden Globe challenge as the first man to nonstop circumnavigate the world alone in a sailboat.
Crowhurst's early years are well-documented and give us a picture of a driven and compulsive man with some serious character flaws and an aversion to failure. Yet failure was a condition which dogged him throughout his life.
Crowhurst's decision to undertake the circumnavigation was both dramatic and ill-considered. With relatively little sailing experience and a lot of bluff he convinced his sponsors to fund the building of a revolutionary trimaran, the "Teignmouth Electron" equipped with all manner of electronic wizardry (Crowhurst had invented a sort of early GPS, the Navicator, in the mid-60's).
Unfortunately, the "Teignmouth Electron" was never properly completed, the race deadline having intervened, and Crowhurst sailed in a boat that was unfinished, poorly provisioned, and untested, having done miserably in what passed for sea trials.
Setting out on the latest possible day, Crowhurst found himself limping along at a ridiculously slow pace three weeks later. Plagued by equipment failures, the "Teignmouth Electron" was taking water due to design flaws, and had no real chance of completing the race. Having staked all on a successful outcome, the tension and isolation of his predicament attacked Crowhurst's mind.
In a fit of brilliant madness, Donald Crowhurst spent hours working out and logging false positions, sun sights, weather reports, and sailing notations to make it seem he was circling the earth while in fact he meandered pointlessly through the South Atlantic for months.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you're interested in the complexities of the human heart and mind, this book is for you. It's superbly written, well paced and detailed without ever being tedious, and it gets extraordinarily close to Donald Crowhurst the man--an unusual and intelligent person who took a few wrong turns and kept going. There was so much at stake in his journey, and thinking it all through sensibly and accepting the consequences of poor preparation proved to be too difficult for him. In the end he became so distressed and confused that he lost sight of himself... He was never able to see that the truth about human life can't be computed or worked out like an equation--it is not susceptible to logical proofs, because the variables are manifold and not easily understood, and people are both more and less than logical... His need, clearly, was to go home and start again, but the penalty for doing so seemed too high to him. So, in refusing to accept a lesser defeat he suffered a far greater one. You can't help rooting for Donald, and you can't help feeling sorry for him.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "kingsransom" on October 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Donald Crowhurst left England on October 31, 1968 to participate in a around-the-world, non-stop, solo sailing race. He was the next to last competitor to leave, just before the deadline. His boat, the Teignmouth Electron, was a trimaran.
He sailed at a disappointingly slow speed for a while and then reported a few amazingly fast days. Radio communications halted as he approached the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, and nothing was heard from him for 111 days.
Then radio communications resumed as he re-entered the South Atlantic, around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. He was leading the race, and seemed assured of the trophy and the cash prize of £5,000. Then, on July 10, 1969, his boat was found drifting in the Atlantic, with no sign of Crowhurst on board.
This book is the sad detective story of this voyage. Crowhurst never left the Atlantic Ocean, let alone sail around the world. He left massive documentation which showed that he had cheated. Presumably, rather than complete his fraudulent voyage, he stepped into the ocean and left the evidence for people to examine.
Although these facts are known prior to even picking up the book, the author still comes to a very surprising conclusion. This is a book about what was going on in the mind of this sad man who seems to have gone mad. It is a fascinating and worthwhile read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tony Hughes on August 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
To echo an earlier reviewer, this is also my favourite book of all time. I tracked down a dog-eared and stained copy from the early 1970's, read it in just over a day then started back at the beginning.
The fascination of the book lies with Crowhurst. Here is a man who made a couple of wrong turns in life and just kept on going. A man who may, like many of us, have lived a long life had he not taken to the sea in a white elephant on a goose chase.
Tomalin and Hall had access to Crowhurst's logs and, through them, his thinking - however fuzzy that may be. From this, they constructed a well-written and gripping true-life novel.
FYI, The Teignmouth Electron now lies on a beach near a liquor store on the island of Cayman Brac.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Blake Wright on December 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book, carefully and wonderfully crafted by its authors. Crowhurst was an amazingly complicated man, driven by his intellect and confined by his shortcomings. The sea was the ultimate challenge for him to face his personal demons. Setting out on a voyage inspires a whole range of emotions and feelings for those who choose to embark on such a journey. It is a study in contrasts: hope & fear; order & chaos; skill & luck; triumph & defeat. Crowhurst experienced each of these at such a deep level. He was on the world stage, yet confined by his own machinations. He set out to conquer the last great solo feat and relied on his own abilities. This is the story of how that played out. Along with this text, I would also recommend reading Peter Nichol's "A Voyage For Madmen." It provides an excellent overview of the men involved in the first solo-around-the-world-race and each of their fates. I was unable to put either of these books down.
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