SEA OF LIES; Feted as a Fearless Round-the-World Yachtsman, Donald Crowhurst Was in Fact a Walter Mitty Who Faked His Whole Voyage and Disappeared When He Was about to Be Exposed. Now, for the First Time, His Widow Talks about Her Guilt

Daily Mail (London), November 4, 2006 | Go to article overview

SEA OF LIES; Feted as a Fearless Round-the-World Yachtsman, Donald Crowhurst Was in Fact a Walter Mitty Who Faked His Whole Voyage and Disappeared When He Was about to Be Exposed. Now, for the First Time, His Widow Talks about Her Guilt


Byline: DAVID JONES

THE SCENE is a grand seafront hotel in a West Country resort. The date is October 30, 1968. The master suite has just been vacated by The Beatles, no less, but tonight is occupied by a more unlikely hero. His name is Donald Crowhurst. He is a 35-year-old family man with a struggling electronics business, and his hobby is messing about in boats.

Tomorrow, however, this rookie sailor will embark on a lone, non-stop race around the world - a feat that has defeated many more experienced yachtsmen, and remains the seafarer's Holy Grail.

Outwardly, Crowhurst exudes confidence during the build-up to the epic contest, whose nine-strong field includes the redoubtable 29-year-old Robin Knox-Johnston, and which has captured the entire nation's imagiby Best [the sharp local businessmen acting as his sponsor] had him sign a last-minute agreement stating that the house would be mortgaged if the boat was lost, or he gave up the race.' With hindsight, Mrs Crowhurst realises that this was her last opportunity to implore her husband to pull out.

Indeed, unable to take the decision himself, she guesses he may have wanted her to make up his mind for him.

Instead, she bravely reassured him that they were young and healthy enough to recover from any financial setback.

'I still feel so incredibly guilty about it,' she says. 'I think if I had just said "This is barmy! Stop it!" he would have listened. But I was scared that in five years' time, he'd have regretted not going, and I would have stopped him fulfilling his dream.' The following morning, Donald Crowhurst duly sailed off from Teignmouth; but he was not to 'fulfil his dream'.

Crowhurst became forever known as the Man Who Sailed Around The World Without Ever Leaving The Atlantic. And along with his reputation, he lost his life.

The poignant and compelling new film resurrects intriguing questions. What drove this game but hopelessly inept bathtub adventurer to sail to his doom?

Why, when the odds became insurmountable, didn't he simply return to port?

And how did he meet his end?

WHEN it was devised in 1968, the Golden Globe race was the ultimate test of daring. The trophy would go to the first man to circumnavigate the earth non-stop using the old tea-clipper route between Britain and Australia. It runs south through the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, east across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, round Cape Horn, and northwards back home - a distance of some 27,000 miles.

Since the start would be staggered, with competitors setting off many weeks apart, there would be a separate [pounds sterling]5,000 prize for the fastest time. The final departure date was October 31.

Given the sophisticated equipment nation. Privately, however, the rank amateur who has never previously ventured farther than the Bay of Biscay is waking up to the terrifying truth.

Carried along by delusions of glory and wealth, he has signed himself up for a task far beyond both his own limited yachting capabilities and those of his flimsy, unfinished boat.

On that fateful autumn night 38 years ago, Crowhurst grinned through a strained last supper at the Royal Hotel in Teignmouth, Devon, with his family and his unscrupulous cabal of backers.

Returning to his suite, however, he was tormented by a monumental dilemma.

Having used his house as collateral for the costly adventure, he and his wife Clare and their four young children would be left homeless if he pulled out at the eleventh hour, or failed to complete the race.

Yet should he be fool enough to attempt to round the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Southern Ocean, a mariner's graveyard of fearful storms and towering waves, he would almost certainly capsize.

FOR almost four decades, Clare Crowhurst has been haunted by those final, angst-ridden moments with her husband.

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SEA OF LIES; Feted as a Fearless Round-the-World Yachtsman, Donald Crowhurst Was in Fact a Walter Mitty Who Faked His Whole Voyage and Disappeared When He Was about to Be Exposed. Now, for the First Time, His Widow Talks about Her Guilt
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