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The International Writers Magazine: Review

Force of Nature
Robin-Knox Johnston with Kate Laven

Penguin 2007
ISBN: 978-0-718-15324-3 
Daniel Cann review


Apart from watching news reports and a documentary film my knowledge of sailing is very limited. When I saw the front cover of this book with a serious and determined looking man staring back at me with scenes of rough seas below him I was intrigued to find out more. Who was he? Would my curiosity be satisfied or disappointed? I read on hoping I had made the right choice.


Well, the man on the cover was Sir Robin Knox-Johnson who in January 1969 became the first person ever to sail solo non-stop around the world. An impressive achievement, this book sees RKJ attempting to repeat the feat nearly forty years later and at the age of sixty-seven years old. No pipe and slippers for this man then! Most people his age would not look to undertake such a gruelling and dangerous venture. RKJ is not an ordinary person as I found out as the pages turned.


Entering the Velux 5 Oceans Race in the Open 60s class he found himself having to relearn racing all over again as things had moved on since his first remarkable sailing achievement all those years ago. His rivals all had more experience than he did in the ultra competitive and punishing world of single-handed offshore racing.


Early chapters of course concern themselves with the preparation, sponsorship, equipment and support team. I was hooked as I read how it began to dawn on RKJ just what he had let himself in for. Back in the 1960s he explains it was all about paper maps, charts and ‘ham’ radios as well as relying on your own judgement and wits. Early 21st Century racing requires not just sailing skills but also the ability to use and read GPS systems, laptop computers, emails and communications systems with the support team. He soon found out much of this computerised equipment and technology is great to have in theory but would prove to be unreliable and troublesome throughout his adventure. It was fascinating to read his observations on how the two eras compared and the new challenges he faced onboard his new hi-tech vessel.


The sea is a testing environment both physically and mentally for someone even half RKJ’s age. As the book and story unfolds the reader’s respect and awe of his achievements grow. His accounts and observations on equipment, diet, cooking, storage, hygiene and repairs make for compelling and fascinating reading and even the most experienced yachtsmen and sailors will be interested in how he managed to cope in such extreme and testing circumstances.


As I neared the end of the story I drew a few conclusions, RKJ is very much in the same mould as polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Both are driven men who do not suffer fools. Both need a challenge and are goal-oriented. Finally both men see age as no barrier to new achievements. The reader is with him all the way in this truly gripping account of one man challenging the odds and battling against the elements. This is an enthralling and uplifting read.


‘Force of Nature’ is an apt title for a book about the sea; it is also an apt description of RKJ himself who has proved once again what a remarkable individual he is! Anyone of any age can read this book and be inspired.

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