Veteran sailor and grandfather-of-five Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said he was “ecstatic” to claim third place in his class after he crossed the finish 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, who founded the 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.
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.
And 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 on Saturday 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 with a time of 20 days, 20 hours, 20 minutes.
The first man to sail solo, non-stop round the world in 1968-9, he said he was happy to finish the 3,542-mile race after the “intense” contest for the final podium place.
He finished three days, 46 minutes and 19 seconds behind the Rhum Class winner Anne Caseneuve on her Multi 50 Trimaran Aneo, with Italian Andrea Mura coming in second.
Speaking after the race, Sir Robin said: “I am absolutely over the moon, ecstatic to get third.
“I didn’t expect to get third when I started the race.
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“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. If you come in third you feel you have not done badly.
“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. That’s a fast boat I’ve got. I managed to hold on to my lead but I couldn’t beat Andrea Mura despite catching him up. I was beaten by two very good people. I congratulate Anne and Andrea.
“And thank you very much, everyone, for your support. It’s been fantastic. It has helped me push on harder than I might otherwise have done. I have had a wonderful reception in Guadeloupe too, and look forward to spending a few days here after a good shower and rest. If I said in Saint Malo I felt 48, then perhaps tonight I feel 50 – but no more.”
He sailed the 3,542 mile (Rhumb line) course at an average speed of 7.26 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.”
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 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.”
Sir Robin added that he will be back for the next race in 2018, with a smaller boat.
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