Age is just a number

25 Sep

When I was in the army in South Africa I used to run long races. Half marathons and such. I would be running just fine until I saw some old bugger overtake me. I would look at the guy and think jeez how can a guy that age be running so fast. He must be at least 40. Yip these days I am pushing 60 and I can run further and faster than I could when I was 20. Which brings me to my story. It was really great to see Robin Knox-Johnston and his merry crew demolish the Transatlantic Race finishing in the early hours of Saturday morning.  RKJ, as he is affectionately known, is 76 years old and thinks nothing of hopping on a fast boat for yet another trip across the pond. Indeed last Fall he raced solo in the Route du Rhum finishing third in his class. Quite amazing really but maybe not because age is just a number and it’s clear that RKJ chooses to believe that he is still a youngster.

I was lucky enough to work with him during the 2002/03 Around Alone. We were roommates in New Zealand and he and I would often sit up late and shoot the breeze. I never mentioned it to him, but it was his book that inspired me to get out of South Africa and sail around the world. Robin was the first person to sail solo, nonstop around the world winning the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1969. He wrote a great book about his experience titled A World of My Own. I was just a kid and read each page over and over; it was an adventure beyond belief and I was there every inch of the way. What I remember most was that RKJ did it ‘for Queen and Country’. When things got tough he sucked it up for Great Britain. I am no fan of patriotism, indeed it was Samuel Johnson who wrote ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’, but I can understand the sentiment and I admire the result. Robin was 30 years old when he returned to England on Suhaili, his creaky, leaky tub that had taken him around the world without stopping.
RKJ arriving back in England after 312 days at sea

I was not the only one enamored by his book.  When I raced the ’89 Whitbread Round the World race on the Soviet entry Fazisi I noticed one of the crew cradling something as if it was the most precious thing he owned. Turned out he had bought an autographed copy of A World of My Own and was translating it word for word; he didn’t speak a word of english but wanted badly to read the book.
Robin has had a storied life filled with various sailing exploits. In 1994 he and the legendary Peter Blake skippered ENZA to capture the Trophée Jules-Verne for the fastest circumnavigation of the world. Both skippers were knighted by the Queen for their sailing accomplishments. A couple of years later he founded the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, a circumnavigation event for paying crew that still enjoys great popularity. Indeed the next Clipper Race starts from London in just over a month. In 2007 he completed his second solo circumnavigation in the yacht SAGA Insurance competing in the Velux 5-Oceans race, formerly the Around Alone and a race that RKJ owned. In fact I think it was a bit of a publicity stunt to bring up the number of entries in an event that sadly was losing popularity.

Age is just a number but for some reason these amazing accomplishments by people in the later stages of life are not celebrated as they should be. How many people read about Fauja Singh, the British man who ran the Toronto marathon at 100 years old? In fact he retired from marathons after running the Hong Kong marathon just short of his 102nd birthday. Quite extraordinary and he attributes his success to ginger curry, cups of tea and ‘being happy.’ We can all learn from that.

Fauja Singh out for a training run

But back to RKJ.  In 2002 when I was working with him on the Around Alone we were in Torquay, England. The boats were about to finish the first leg of the race and Robin invited me out to watch the finish – on his boat – Suhaili. The same old leaky tub that he had sailed around the world for Queen and Country. The boat had been completely restored and was leak free. We set sail at sunset in a light breeze, just the two of us, and once clear of land I discovered Robin’s secret to success. He brewed us each a cup of tea and once finished the hip flask of neat gin was breached. Tea and gin. That and a positive attitude and lots of ‘being happy’ can get you around the world and back no matter your age. Give it a try – age is just a number.

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


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