Podium finish for Sir Robin Knox-Johnston at 75

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston onboard his Open 60 yacht, Grey Power ahead of the start of the Route du Rhum  Picture: onEdition
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston onboard his Open 60 yacht, Grey Power ahead of the start of the Route du Rhum Picture: onEdition
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Veteran sailor and grandfather-of-five Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has claimed third place in his class as he crossed the finishing line of a solo transatlantic race at the age of 75 – 45 years after he became the first man to sail alone non-stop around the world.

Sir Robin, of Portsmouth, who founded the Gosport-based Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, returned to his solo ocean-racing roots by entering his Open 60 yacht Grey Power into the Route du Rhum competition which started today in St Malo, France.

The pensioner, who was the oldest participant, last competed in the 3,542-mile race from St Malo, France, to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean in 1982 in his 70ft catamaran Olympus.

Sir Robin said: ‘I am absolutely over the moon and ecstatic to get third.

‘I didn’t expect to get on the podium when I started the race. I was up against some damn good competition with lighter, more modern boats than mine that are easier to manage. My boat is a hard boat to work. The top International solo sailors were racing and it was tough.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quite fantastic. There were three of us battling for the second and third spot. I got competitive and that was tiring. It came down to boat speed. She’s a fast boat I’ve got. I managed to hold onto my lead but I couldn’t beat Andrea Mura (second) despite catching him up.

‘I was beaten by two very good people.’

This was his first solo race since his Velux 5 Oceans circumnavigation in 2006-7, which he also sailed in Grey Power.

Sir Robin came third in the Rhum class as he crossed the finish line at Pointe a Pitre at 4.52pm local time/8.52pm GMT after 20 days, 7 hours, 52 minutes and 22 seconds at sea. He managed to hold off rival Wilfrid Clerton, who was 20 miles behind.

When he last sailed in the race 32 years ago he finished in 14th place in a time of 20 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes.

The first man to sail solo, non-stop round the world in 1968/9 said he was happy to finish the 3,542 mile race after the “intense” contest for the final podium place.

He sailed the 3,542 mile (Rhumb line) course at an average speed of 7.26 knots but in reality he actually did 4,416 miles at an average of 9.05 knots.

A spokesman for Sir Robin said: ‘Since the race started in Saint Malo, France on 2 November, Sir Robin reeled in his competitors moving up from 14th place. He had a stimulating battle with three other yachts for the final podium in the last week which saw light winds, rain squalls and big wind shifts.

‘Sir Robin was the oldest competitor in the race, and said it was very satisfying to come third against some great international competitors.’

Speaking ahead of the race, Sir Robin said: ‘I am doing this because I bloody well want to. I have been working hard with the Clipper Race the last year. I did the Sydney-Hobart and loved it. I looked around to see what was coming up and here we are. It is a race I have done before.

‘There are more people here now than in 1982, the age and profile of the people who visit is much the same. I don’t know any other race that attracts this much attention. It is phenomenal.

‘There are bound to be questions about my age. They ask what I think of doing this at 75 and I say I am still 45. That is how I feel. I think I am 45 and that is where I stay. I feel no different to when I last raced. I am pretty fit. I lead an active life. I think of myself as young and that is it.

‘I treat myself as young and I am just not ready for the slippers, pipe and television. That is not coming in a hurry.’

The inaugural race in 1978 was won by Canadian Mike Birch after a nail-biting finish but was marred by the disappearance of French sailor Alain Colas, who was lost at sea.

The 2014 race was open to mono and multihull boats across four classes with almost 80 entrants.

Sir Robin set his circumnavigation record when he competed in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race on April 22 1969.

The other seven competitors dropped out at various stages leaving Sir Robin as the victor as he sailed into Falmouth aboard his 32ft boat Suhaili, 312 days after he left the Cornish port.

Sir Robin, who was born in Putney, south west London, and now lives in Portsmouth, is the chairman and founder of Clipper Ventures which runs the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, the biannual event which sees amateur sailors from around the world completing a 40,000 mile global circumnavigation.