Legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston sets off to mark 50 years since solo round the world voyage

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HALF a century on from becoming the first solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe a maritime legend has once again set sail to recreate the final stage of his iconic journey.

On April 22, 1969, pioneering Portsmouth yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston returned to Falmouth after 312 days at sea on his yacht Suhaili.

Sir Robin on board Suhaili before departure this morning in Portsmouth Harbour.  Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Sir Robin on board Suhaili before departure this morning in Portsmouth Harbour. Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Sir Robin was immortalised in maritime history as the first person to sail solo, non-stop around the world.

This morning Sir Robin and Suhaili departed Gosport Marina destined for Falmouth.

On Easter Monday at 3.25pm – the exact time the pair returned from their round the world epic journey –  they will be joined by an honorary flotilla as they re-enact the historic moment Sir Robin crossed the finish line.

‘With the half century anniversary approaching it seemed like a good opportunity to go back – I certainly won’t be around for the centenary,’ said Sir Robin.

Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

‘What I’m most looking forward to is meeting up with friends for a great occasion,’ he added.

While Sir Robin was very much alone on his journey there was one companion he was determined would join him for this anniversary voyage – his trusted yacht, Suhaili.

He said: ‘She has been part of my life since I first sailed her from Bombay to Portsmouth in 1963.

‘I started work on refitting her and she eventually returned to the water two years ago. It will be special to be back at her helm when we return to Falmouth.’

Sir Robin poses at the tiller of Suhaili for photographer Bill Rowntree as he sails out of Portsmouth Harbour this morning. Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Sir Robin poses at the tiller of Suhaili for photographer Bill Rowntree as he sails out of Portsmouth Harbour this morning. Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

When he commenced his voyage in 1968, no one had ever sailed non stop around the world.

He said: ‘At that point we didn’t know if it was possible – previously the furthest solo non-stop sail was only half the distance we were attempting.

‘The most memorable part of the journey was in the Southern Ocean where the waves reached a height of 80 foot. I was so terrified I would be washed overboard that I climbed up the mast.’

Joining Sir Robin on the anniversary voyage was Bill Rowntree, 79, who was a photographer given the task of covering the original journey.

Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

Picture: Morten Watkins/Solent News & Photo Agency

‘I was initially with Robin for six weeks and helped with the preparation of Suhaili. I always knew he would do it. I’d spent time sailing with him and had no doubt,’ said Bill.

In more recent years, Sir Robin has been involved in establishing the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – an opportunity for amateur sailors to circumnavigate the globe. 

Crew member, Jody Shaw, 57, from Michigan in the United States, said: ‘As a six-year old-boy my dad would read me extracts from the National Geographic who were charting Robin’s journey.

‘I remember being fascinated. It was only when I heard about today’s departure that I realised it was the same person. Once I knew that, I had to come down to wave him off.’

A bronze footprint cast will also be unveiled in Falmouth to mark Sir Robin’s first steps on land after 312 days at sea.