Donald Crowhurst

Teignmouth Electron for sail
Donald Crowhurst at the boom of Teignmouth Electron

The Abandoned Boat                     

At 7.50 AM July 10th, 1969 a sailboat was spotted drifting by the Royal Mail Vessel Picardy at 33d’ 11’’ North, 40’ 28’’ West off the Caribbean. The drifting boat was boarded but nobody was found. It was obvious that somebody has been living here for a long time. The cabin was a mess with radio equipment, books and notes spread around including two ship logs and one radio log. The boat was Teignmouth Electron, a trimaran that participated in the ongoing Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed race around the globe. The sailor was Donald Crowhurst, an unknown sailor that signed on for the race in the last minute.  A search was launched which came up with nothing. Donald Crowhurst had been lost to the sea.

The real and faked routes of Donald Crowhurst. The “real” is red

The Logs

Teignmouth Electron was found with two ship logs and one radio log. One of the logs reflected the route he actually sailed. Another log reflected the route mandated by the race and the one he was expected to take. That log was maintained but with fake positions to show he was following the correct route. Donald Crowhurst began to use the faked log Dec 6, he had decided not to sail around the Antarctic but instead hide in the Atlantic off South America. He kept both logs updated. Communication with ships in this part of the world was limited to brief radio transmissions with land-based radio stations. That would in this case be a station in New Zealand. It was thus not too hard to fool race officials as Donald Crowhurst in any case would be without radio contact with the rest of the world. Crowhurst resumed racing and broke radio silence on May 4th where he reported he had sailed around Antarctica at a phenomenal speed. It was a sensation; an unknown sailor was now number two in the Golden Globe race.

Part of the Teignmouth Electrin cabin with open logbook
Log pages, the left with observations and comments including the text: “It is Finished, IT IS THE MERCY”
Log with notes and mathematical calculations.

The Race

The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, first held in 1968–1969. Donald Crowhurst signed up for the race on March 21th and Teignmouth Electron left Teignmouth harbour October 31, 1968.

The preparation

The design and construction of the boat was short and forced. The building process took place in 3 phases simultaneously to save time:  the design, the build of the hulls and the assembly phase.
The boat was in a miserable state:

  • It was not ready, items were missing or not installed properly
  • It was slow and with steering problems
  • It was not fit for the storms of the Southern Ocean.

Donald Crowhurst told his wife the day before departure: “I am very disappointed with the boat and I am not prepared”. Despite the warning signs Teignmouth Electron left Teignmouth Oct 31, 1968 heading south.

Why?

Donald Crowhurst has been described as a complex person: “He was clever, brave, intense and burdened with self-consciousness”.  He was intelligent and inventive. He was an electronic wizard with his own company. He was a seasoned sailor and first-rate navigator. He designed Teignmouth Electron with many novel features of which not all were implemented and installed. Why did he bring himself in the impossible situation he ended up in.  Why decided he to sail around the globe with his limited sailing experience? That is the real mystery of Donald Crowhurst and his last journey.  

One of the books Donald Crowhurst had aboard Teignmouth Electron was Einstein’s “Relativity: The Special and the General Theory”.

Timeline

Oct 3 1968 day 1
Departed Teignmouth at 16:32 hour
Nov 15 1968 day 15
Off Portugal having logged 1,300 miles, was only 800 miles along his intended route, a distance he intended to cover in six days.  He was beginning to realize that there was no way in which he could win the race with such slow progress. Trouble with generator
Nov 29 1968 day 29
Off the Canary Islands, was possibly now having thoughts about falsifying  the voyage
Dec 06 1968 day 36
Off Cape Verde Islands. The start of the false route. He would now use two Log Books, one with actual route for navigation and one with the false route
Dec 19 day 49
Crossed the Equator
Dec 26 day 55
Off Brazil. Damage found to the starboard hull
Jan 15 1969 day 75
His claimed position off Gough Island at the commencement of his radio silence, said to be due to generator problems, heading apparently for the Southern Ocean
Mar 6 day 126
Landed at Rio Salado, in Argentina for repairs to starboard hull.  This would have disqualified him if it had been known by the race organisers.  Departed Rio Salado 8th March
Mar 29 day 150
Off the Falkland Islands after slowly meandering around the South Atlantic to waste time while his false route apparently rounded Cape Horn
Apr 9 day 161
Having slowly sailed north he breaks radio silence to send false signals about his position
May 4 day 185
His false route through the Southern Ocean to Australia, New Zealand and Cape Horn would have taken him to this position on this date.  He picks up his actual route, restarts serious racing and ceases the deception
May 21 day 202
Position on the day that the race leader’s boat sank; Cmdr Nigel Tetley in Victress.  This now put Crowhurst apparently in the lead
Jun 5 day 217
Crowhurst now caught in a tangled web of deceit over his false voyage and begins to doubt whether he can contain the guilt when he returns to Teignmouth as the apparent winner. He crosses the Equator sailing north
Jun 18 day 230
Increasing despair over his situation.  Logbooks filled with strange entries. His mind appears to he breaking down
Jun 23 day 235
Teignmouth Electron sighted by SS Cuyahogg
Jul 1 day 243
Presumed point when Crowhurst went overboard
Jul 10
Teignmouth Electron found abandoned by the RMS Picardy, taken aboard and shipped to the West Indies where she is still to be seen on the small island of Cayman Brac.  Of the four Logbooks carried, one was found to be missing

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Crowhurst
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunday_Times_Golden_Globe_Race https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8boBxNlQSUM

Book:
The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst
by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall