The British sailing hero has completed a mammoth leg of ocean racing, celebrating his 68th birthday and proving his enduring skills as an offshore sailor amidst a fleet of young skippers. With only a fast paced Atlantic sprint left to the finish of the VELUX 5 OCEANS in Bilbao, Spain, the sailing legend looks set to complete an historic circumnavigation.
Speaking on the dockside, KNOX-JOHNSTON commented, 'This leg has been a nightmare but I am just pleased it's over. I thought that it might be over two days ago but the weather decided otherwise. I think Unai has been in church praying for adverse winds for me.
'There has been some fabulous days sailing sitting on the boat and she's sailing along beautifully, nice wind and the sea is sparkling in the sun and you just think this is wonderful and I wouldn't swap this for anything and I wouldn't if I was cruising but I wasn't I was racing so I find it frustrating.
'No regrets but I don't feel I am really succeeding so I may have to find another one. I think I have been very frustrated. Sailing great but racing no - I have been really frustrated.
'Let's see what happens in the next leg as I have Unai to take care of.'
Leg two has pushed KNOX-JOHNSTON to the very extremes of his physical and emotional reserves and despite his natural strength and determination for a man of his age, the British Knight arrived in Norfolk on the edge of complete exhaustion. The sleep deprivation, heat and extreme conditions faced over nearly three months alone in the ocean have taken their toll on all the sailors, not just KNOX-JOHNSTON. Ambulances and doctors were on hand to greet SAGA Insurance to provide assistance, although KNOX-JOHNSTON certainly proves that age is no barrier to overcoming even the harshest of challenges and living your dreams.
After an amazing effort by his shore team in Fremantle, Australia to get the Open 60 ready after a long and tough journey from Bilbao, KNOX-JOHNSTON made a great start and crossed the line in second, a few feet behind defending champion Bernard STAMM (SUI). However, just 50 miles into leg two he identified a major problem with his autopilot and decided to head back to shore. Although the power problem was quickly fixed, he is forced to sit out the mandatory 48 hour penalty and watch the fleet power away towards Cape Leeuwin.
SAGA Insurance re-started over 250 miles behind the closest competitor, Unai BASURKO (ESP). However, further technology issues with the iridium phones and the Fleet 77 meant that the experienced yachtsman was unable to receive weather information, a major setback that meant he was forced to sail more conservatively throughout the Southern Ocean stretch. KNOX-JOHNSTON further discovered that the central disc of a furler was damaged (bent), which meant no reachers could be used. Despite all the issues, after only seven days Grant DALTON's A Southern Man AGD.
The end of January brought squalls and strong gales as KNOX-JOHNSTON battled with more breakages and at the same time tried to focus on chasing down the fleet. As well as dealing with an oil leak, flooded ballast tanks, a torn solent and interminable computer problems, he lost one of the two life rafts. 2,000 miles from Cape Horn and deep in the Southern Ocean, after nearly a month at sea, the sailing legend finally succeeded in stealing fourth place. However, as he approached the infamous tip of South America, KNOX-JOHNSTON announced that he needed to stop in Ushuaia, Argentina as he could not carry on without detailed weather information.
On 18 February, he rounded Cape Horn for the third time in his career and SAGA Insurance faced harsh conditions, with over 40 knots of wind. After another 48 hours on land, KNOX-JOHNSTON charged into the Atlantic and held onto fourth position as DALTON pulled into the Falkland Islands to re-fuel. As SAGA Insurance passed close to the remote British outpost, HMS Edinburgh made a special rendezvous with the ex-Navy man, a pleasant surprise for KNOX-JOHNSTON as he chased down BASURKO a few hundred miles north.
The Atlantic stretch of leg two marked a frustrating and exhausting period for KNOX-JOHNSTON, who was plagued by unpredictable and variable weather patterns, and the famous sexagenarian began to feel the effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation. As STAMM arrived in Norfolk, the sole remaining British skipper was over 5,000 miles back in the extreme heat of the tropics. On 17 March, St Patrick's Day, KNOX-JOHNSTON celebrated his 68th birthday alone at sea, celebrating with whiskey and the joy of crossing the equator. Only days before, Sir Terry WOGAN announced that he had been awarded 'Oldie Seadog of the Year' to celebrate his outstanding achievement. Some good news as SAGA Insurance battled north.
KNOX-JOHNSTON was greeted on the dockside by Karen SCHERBERGER, from Festevents representing the City of Norfolk, Admiral Sir Mark STANHOPE KCB OBE, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization - based in Norfolk) and Al ROPER from the Towne Point Yacht Club who were delighted to welcome him to the city of Norfolk where KNOX-JOHNSTON will be looking forward to a well earned rest over the next two weeks.
With KNOX-JOHNSTON the fourth skipper of the VELUX 5 OCEANS to arrive in Norfolk, the fleet is all but complete, except for the unfortunate DALTON. The tenacious Kiwi skipper was forced to seek land three times during the second leg, and now finds himself in Brazil without a keel bulb. The rest of the skippers will recover in Virginia until the fleet sets off for the finish in Bilbao on 15 April.
The VELUX 5 OCEANS is the longest race for any individual in any sport. Over the first few days, the fleet will make their way along the northern coast of Spain to Cape Finistère where they will turn south towards the Southern Ocean. However, all of the skippers know that this race is a marathon and not a sprint. During the 30,000 miles sailed in the VELUX 5 OCEANS race, the yachts will encounter some of the most extreme sea and weather conditions on the planet.
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