At the far end of the spectrum of the relationship between Man and Boat are the tragic affairs. In a perverse way, they are probably the most interesting. One of the most famous examples were the cases Donald Crowhurst and Nigel Tetley’s relationships with their trimarans Teignmouth Electron and Victress in the Golden Globe race of 1968. They were identical boats and considered cutting edge speed machines that theoretically would win the race.
Crowhurst mortgaged his house and bet his business in constructing the boat that he thought would bring him fame and fortune. It was tricked out with the latest in marine technology manufactured by Crowhurst’s own company. To the outside world, his boat was a floating advertisement for Crowhurst’s genius, his business and the future of sailing.
Behind the scenes, it was a different story. The boat was constantly, behind schedule, not built to Crowhurst’s specifications and certainly not ready to cross the start line of the Golden Globe race by the October 31st 1968 cut-off.
Underway, the electronics never worked properly and the boat started to delaminate early in the race. She leaked like a sieve taking on water, very seriously in one pontoon. He knew early on that his boat would fall apart in the Southern Oceans. It was desperate. He just couldn’t do it and his boat as well his own abilities had let him down. Rather than face the shame and financial ruin of abandoning the race, Crowhurst had a different strategy. He stayed in the relative safety of the Atlantic radioing in false positions. These showed him still in the race. His aim was to sail in circles till the other racers returned to the Atlantic and then rejoin the race taking second in the prize for fastest time to complete the race. Well, that was his plan.
Tetley and his wife lived aboard their trimaran, Victress. He was the last to enter the Golden Globe race, practically doing it on a whim, quickly outfitting it for the circumnavigation. The fact that he was able to get her ready that quick was a testament to his Royal Navy training. For most of the race his boat performed well. He started late but gained ground gradually. As racers like Chay Blyth and others abandoned the race, he found himself one of four competitors left and in third place. He knew that he wouldn’t win the prize to cross the line first as either RKJ or Moitessier looked like taking that. It seemed a certainty that Moitessier would also win the prize for fastest race.
Then a bizarre thing happened. In a spiritual epiphany, Moitessier abandoned the race, turned south out of the Atlantic and headed east for the Indian Ocean. There were three boats left: RKJ heading for home and line honors, Crowhurst who was ostensibly in third and Tetley in second place with a certainty of winning the prize for fastest time.
His boat had other ideas. He was in the Atlantic and on the last leg home when like Crowhurst’s, Teley’s trimaran started to delaminate. Thinking that Crowhurst was on his tail he pushed Victress too hard. She took on too much water and started sinking. Tetley was forced to radio for help, abandon his boat, his home and his opportunity of glory 1,200 miles from the finish. Tetley returned quietly home, was awarded a 1,000 GBP consolation prize and was pretty much forgotten.
Crowhurst, meanwhile was faced with a huge dilemma. With only RKJ left in the race, he could definitely claim the prize for fastest circumnavigation but he was horrified by the prospect. He knew that he would never get away with it. If he had come in second in the time race and third overall it was less likely that his logs would be scrutinized by the race committee led by an already suspicious Francis Chichester. Even then it was a big gamble. If he won the speed prize, his records would be pored over and he knew that he would be caught out. Crowhurst was a brilliant mathematician and had done a spectacular feat in calculating plausible false positions for months on end but he knew though that tough scrutiny would uncover his fraud.
In the end, was driven mad by the lie he had created. Had his boat performed he would most likely have completed the race. He would not have won but at least he would have kept his dignity. The shame and desperation was too much for him. His boat was found floating unmanned in the Caribbean. Crowhurst had thrown himself or fallen overboard.
Tetley’s story is less well-know but equally tragic. After the race he took his consolation prize and started to build a boat called Miss Vicky with the intention of completing his circumnavigation. He was never able to raise enough to outfit her for the vessel. On a quiet afternoon in 1972, Tetley went to the end of his garden and hanged himself from a tree. He left no suicide note so one can only speculate why. It seems likely that the deep loneliness of his attempted circumnavigation had been especially tough on him. Followed by the desperation of failures and his sinking, one can guess that this as too much for him.
PART IV COMING SOON – HAS THE ROMANCE GONE