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The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst Paperback – May 21, 2003
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From the Publisher
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 sailedWilkie Collins, Joseph Conrad, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Jack London, E.B. White, William Golding, John Barth, Thomas McGuane, Geoffrey Wolffalong 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 Sailors 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 ships library isnt restricted to books with boats in them, of course; I wouldnt 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 wont figure in the series are as important as those that will.
We wont be publishing quaint curiosities. Period charm does not make a classic, and though I have a soft spot for, say, Nathaniel Bishops Four Months in a Sneak Box (1879), and an even softer one for Maurice Griffiths The Magic of the Swatchways (1932), they wont be found in The Sailors 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 publicationthe books that should be essential reading for every literate sailor. No. 2 in the series is Richard Maurys 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. Eachin its very different wayis 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 Sailors Classics will surprise our readers with its richness and complexity. Since Homers Odyssey, the voyage has supplied one of the classic forms in literatureboth 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 selfhooda 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 landfallsand 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 Sailors 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
March 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very good true story of a tragic sailing event. Very thorough and thought provoking.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
great story. good documentary also available, and soon a feature film?
impressed by author's desire to get the facts right. Read more
Truly a book you will NEVER forget.. very disturbing, but fascinating. I have read it repeatedly over the last 30 years. Also made into a super documentaryPublished 7 months ago by Indian Burned
I am completely fascinated by this story and am reading every book I can find written by the other entrants.Published 10 months ago by Jackie Holmes
An interesting and very strange man. Sailing alone can mess with a good mind-A LOT.Published 10 months ago by Kathryn
This was a great read. Though written about 40 years ago it reads as very contemporary, and in this edition there is an afterword by Robin Knox-Johnston, the only person to... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Richard
Instead of letting readers interpret the final journals of Mr Crowhurst the authors, insist on providing bits and scraps of Crowhurst's thoughts together with comments concerning... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Amazon Customer