Hours from the finish line, when he was locked .....
in a tense final battle with Italian course record holder for his class Andrea Mura, doing all he could to steal second, Britain's Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, 75, pronounced that he would be simply 'ecstatic' if he were to finish third in the Rhum Class of La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, the 3,542 miles solo race from Saint-Malo, France to Guadeloupe in the French West Indies.
"I will be back next time with a smaller boat. I am absolutley over the moon, ecstatic to get third. I was up against some really good competition in this class. These last few days we have been racing very hard against each other and in the end there is no shame in being beaten by good people. And I was beaten by two very good people. I congratulate them." Sir Robin commented.
And so he visbly was delighted when he steered his 14 year old 60 foot Open 60 Grey Power across the finish line on a pleasant sunny late afternoon off Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe at 20:52:22hrs UTC (local time 16:52:22hrs).
The wily Italian, who has designs on the next solo Vendee Globe non stop around the world took second, only just managed to hold off the advances of the British skipper the French have loved to call 'the Don'.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's elapsed time for the 3,524 miles direct course is 20d7h52m22s representing an average speed of 7.26 kts. In reality he sailed 4416Nms at an average of 9.05kts. He finished 3d 00h 46m 19s behind the Rhum Class winner Anne Caseneuve on her Multi50 Trimaran Aneo.
Andrew Mura had crossed the finish with Sir Robin, who had closed more than 200 miles in the last nine days, about 17 miles behind.
But the legendary Englishman - the first man to sail non stop around the world - was delighted to finish on the podium after an exhausting but very fulfilling passage which underlined that his age, experience, seamanship and prudence is a match for anyone in his 20 boat division.
"My race was slow to start but got faster as I went along and it was great because I had three other boats in the same class who were close and we were all very equal, and so that made it great."
"The hard bits were the first days and coming round the island at the end. The constituents which make this race great are Saint Malo at the start, we are racing to Guadeloupe which is wonderful and it is an interesting course to follow. It has everything right, it really does.
The competition was excellent, I loved watching to see how I was gaining or losing, that made it really fun.
The low point was the English Channel and last night was one to forget, it was pretty much pandemonium at times. I tore the reaching sail and had a Chinese gybe.
If I said in Saint Malo I felt 48 then perhaps tonight I feel 50 but no more!
I do this because I enjoy it. And there are some great sailors to race against. We are all competing and it is a wonderful sport to be in. So why give it up? If you can still do it, do it!
When I heard Loick Peyron was coming back next year that was it. He has a little trimaran so I need to sell this boat and build a trimaran and but it will be more of a cruising tri, but it would be great to race Loick again, he is such good fun. He did fantastically.
Knox-Johnston sailed a typically accomplished course, relying on high average speeds and a smart, regular track, remaning safe through the big winds and seas of the first three days after the start on Sunday 2nd November. Unlike Mura, who became trapped in the light winds of the Azores high pressure zone, making pedestrian speeds for three days Knox-Johnston sailed a low risk course which balanced sailing the minimum distance while also remaining in the best available breeze for most of the time.
He pulled back more than 200 miles on Mura and rose to third on the penultimate day of the race. He was reeling Mura in until the breeze shut down on the final 50 miles around the island of Guadeloupe. But the Italian, who nicknamed his 75 year old adversay 'Robin Hood' was so impressed with his esteemed rival's race he said on the dock that he considered waiting at the finish for him, to enjoy the moment and get a picture of them together.
The mythical single-handed race - which Knox-Johnston last sailed in 1982 on his 70 foot catamaran Sea Falcon- was the perfect challenge to lure him back to ocean racing after a seven years hiatus. The Rhum class is peppered with boats with storied histories - like a pair of 38 foot trimarans which are sisters to that of Canadian Mike Birch who won the innuagural race in 1978 by just 98 seconds, as well as some of the older generation sailors
His last race was around the world, completing the Velux 5 Oceans race in 4th place in May 2007. And this time his Route du Rhum proved his better than 32 years ago. In 1982, 5 days in, he lead the race outright but the catamaran's batteries suddenly caught fire and he had to reroute to Madeira to replace them. He finished 14th overall.
After many years at the helm of the very successful Clipper Ventures plc business which runs round the world races for paying, amateur sailors, his participation in last year's Sydney-Hobart race rekindled his racing spirit. He said in Saint-Malo that he was doing this race 'because I bloody well want to go racing again.'
In fact his competitive attack seems to have spiked as he progressed up the fleet. Mid-Atlantic he was simply at one with his boat, enjoying racking up miles in warm sunshine and trade wind conditions. But as he was often the fastest monohull in the Rhum fleet he progressed up to challenge for the Monohull lead .
Sir Robin's Race:
When the promised frontal system over the first 48 hours of the race, Sir Robin stuck to his game plan, to sail prudently and carefully until he was out of the worst of the Bay of Biscay weather and the shipping traffic. "I will wait until after Finisterre before I really start racing." he ventured in Saint Malo.
Indeed across Biscay he was 11th but was up to seventh just after Finisterre, off the NW corner of Spain. Thereafter he stayed more east, getting a good push from the Portugeuse trade winds. His passage under the Azores high was nicely conservative. At Madeira he was 359 miles behind Mura. But he did a good job of staying in the breeze, and by the 11th November he was up to fifth. And from there he just sailed high average speeds, keeping within his and the boat's comfort zone . Yesterday morning, 21/11 he passed second placed Wilfred Clerton on the 70 foot ultra slim monohull Cap au Cap Location.