On April 22, 1969 -- three months before Neil Armstrong's walk on the Moon -- the world watched as a small sailboat came ashore at Falmouth, England, completing a voyage of astonishing courage and endurance that would forever alter our ongoing adventure with the sea. Ten months earlier, nine very different men had set off in small and ill-equipped boats, determined to do the impossible: sail around the world alone and without stopping, to win the race dubbed the Golden Globe. Only one of the nine would cross the finish line -- to fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the rewards would be despair, madness, and death.
The men were inspired by Sir Francis Chichester, who had become a national hero in Britain for stopping only once (in Australia) while sailing alone around the world. Suddenly what had seemed impossible-to circumnavigate the world alone and nonstop -- now appeared within reach. For nine driven men -- among them Robin Knox-Johnston, a young Merchant Marine captain; Bernard Moitessier, a French mystic; Donald Crowhurst, a brilliant, troubled electrical engineer; and Chay Blyth, an Army sergeant who had rowed across the Atlantic in 1966 but did not know how to saila gauntlet had been thrown down, a challenge they found themselves overwhelmingly and inexplicably compelled to accept.
Though the Golden Globe race was the progenitor of (and inspiration for) the Vendee Globe and the Race of the Millennium, its participants had more in common with Captain Cook and Ferdinand Magellan than with today's high-tech sailor. There was no satellite navigational system, no onboard computer, no cell phone or fax line connecting them to the world beyond -- or to possible rescuers. They survived on their wits and ingenuity, navigating by sextant, sun, and stars. Their most sophisticated technology -- when it worked -- was a radio.
A Voyage for Madmen is a remarkable story of individuals against the sea, of men driven by their dreams and demons to live for months on end in a cabin roughly the size of a Volkswagen. To succeed they must endure the harshest of weather; stave off unimaginable loneliness in the forbidding Southern Ocean; navigate unassisted through the world's most treacherous waters off the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn; and, time and again, face -- alone -- those fateful moments when a single decision could mean the difference between life and death.
With a novelist's eye for detail and a seaman's knowledge of the joys and perils of blue water, Peter Nichols has crafted a classic tale of endurance and adventure -- a fitting chronicle of how these obsessed sailors, "in their puny and inadequate boats, undertook the last great maritime feat...and how, one by one, the sea cut them down."
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Peter Nichols is the author of the national bestseller A Voyage for Madmen and two other books, Sea Change: Alone Across the Atlantic in a Wooden Boat, a memoir, and the novel Voyage to the North Star. He has taught creative writing at NYU in Paris and Georgetown University, and presently teaches at Bowdoin College. He is lives in Maine with his wife and son.From Publishers Weekly:
In the psychedelic summer of 1968, as Apollo 8 soared toward the moon and the Democratic Convention crashed in Chicago, nine men tried finally to accomplish the sailor's age-old ultimate goal: a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the world. Nichols (Sea Change) deftly introduces myriad aspects of a voyage that promised "dubious, unquantifiable" rewards. He insightfully contextualizes the endeavor as an offshoot of Sir Francis Chichester's famous 1967 solo circumnavigation (with one stop), which represented to England a "longed-for" heroism. Detailing the British media's successful exploitation of the so-called race, he approaches the voyage as the remarkable result of nine men wishing to outdo Chichester. Nichols painstakingly describes the enormous difficulty of solo navigation in the pre-global positioning system of the 1960s. These "hardcase egomaniacs driven by complex desires and vainglory to attempt an extreme, life-threatening endeavor" used only rudimentary equipment and their wits. Nichols is at his liveliest when describing the only two participants who "were really happy aboard their boats": the French-Asian Bernard Moitessier, the most skilled sailor, whose mystical seamanship brings surprises, and the British Robin Knox-Johnson, who was energized during his journey by the memory of "the Elizabethan sea heroes of his youth." Nichols also delivers a compelling portrait of English Donald Crowhurst, an electronics engineer whose "supercharged personality" wreaked havoc on the entire race. While Nichols's pace is neither breakneck nor suspenseful, his careful details and psychological insight make for a riveting account of the triumphant human spirit. 16-page photo insert, 8 maps.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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