Sir Robin Knox-Johnston - Chairman, Clipper Ventures Share PDF Print E-mail
Profile of the week


By Tariq Saleh

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is one of the world’s most celebrated sailors. One of just six inductees of the ISAF Hall of Fame, he has sailed around the world four times, once as the first to go solo, non-stop, and once setting the record for the fastest circumnavigation with Sir Peter Blake in 1994.

He was knighted in 1995 in recognition of his global sailing achievements.

Never far from the water, the Clipper Race founder continues to inspire the worldwide sailing community. Aged 75, Sir Robin was named UK Yachtsman of the Year in January 2015 after his impressive third place finish in the classic solo transatlantic Route du Rhum race.

His fourth time receiving this award, this is an achievement only otherwise matched by Sir Ben Ainslie.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into sailing?

I joined the merchant marine when I was 17 as an apprentice and in those days we had to sail, we had to build several life boats and I was on the cadet ship where we had a whaler and two dinghy’s for our recreation and that became for me a wonderful hobby. So I really got into sailing in the merchant navy.

Can you tell us about Clipper Ventures, how did you get to create this?

Clipper started as a concept, I was in Greenland mountaineering with a friend of mine and he was telling me how much it cost to climb Mount Everest and I thought I wonder what the top sailing thing is? It’s circumnavigation.

I wondered how much it would cost for either boat, a skipper, training, food, port fees, all the rest of the things that go into it, I did some quick calculation and it was about half of what it cost to climb Mount Everest.

So I came back and we went into that more accurately and we put an advert in the paper saying we plan to do this and we had 8,000 answers, so we thought we better do it, so that’s how Clipper started.


What are the biggest challenges that you have to face today with Clipper?

One of the biggest challenges that people don’t appreciate is setting a route that fits in with the seasons of the year in different parts of the world. You want the race to be arriving in places at the good time when the winds are going to be favourable, so selecting the ports that fit that is actually one of the most difficult challenges that we have.

Recruiting crew and training them, that’s something we do fairly easily, they’re usually self-motivated, they’ve got this dream they’d like to do it, so actually they’re good to work with and that enthusiasm makes them easy to work with.

After that it’s really a question of persuading the places we go to take advantage of our visit, because we can bring a lot. 12 big boats coming into a port can be eye-catching and people don’t always appreciate just how influential that is and bringing in businesses who want to use our race to promote themselves.

You are the first man to have sailed solo around the world in 1969, what makes you take on such big challenges?

I think life is there to be enjoyed, we’ve only got one life, you can paint it in pastel shades or you can paint it in bright colours, it’s your choice. I’ve chosen to use bright colours in my life.

The result is, I’ve flown, parachuted, mountaineered, dived, sailed, explored and I’ve had a very interesting life and I work on the précis that I’m nearly 76 but there’s other things I want to do.

So I look at life and say what’s going on out there that interests me, what would make me say ‘that would be exciting I haven’t done that before’, so I’m always looking for something to provide me with that little extra spur in life and to a certain extent that applies to our crews.

They have chosen to sail around the world or across the nation and so I identify with that wish in them to do something that I’ve always wanted done, so I like putting that together.


How do you translate this into the fact that anybody can do this?

Anyone can do it, if anyone’s got the enthusiasm. They don’t have to be a sailor if they say I want to go and try sailing, I wasn’t a flyer when I decided I wanted to try flying, I wasn’t a parachuter when I first jumped off an aeroplane, but you’ve got to go and try these things.

The worst thing is to be 90 looking in the mirror in the morning and saying ‘I wish I’d done that’, well I say to people, do it, do it now before it’s too late, don’t wait, don’t be one of those saying ‘I thought of doing that but…’, ignore the buts, go out there and seize it and then you’ve got a brighter life, a more enjoyable life. You want something to talk about, something to be proud of.

Why do the easy things in life, who’s interested? Go and take on the tough challenges in life, you don’t have to boast about it, but you’ve got that personal satisfaction that I did something difficult.

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