Single handed sailing, old style

For those of us of a certain age, or with a passion and interest in long distance ocean-sailing, alone, the name Commander Bill King will trigger a ding in the dark recesses of the mental lazarette. Commander King was among the earliest sailors to attempt and subsequently, after the third attempt, successfully circumnavigate alone.

Picture of Commander King cut from an obituary in the British paper, The Guardian. The image was not attributed.

I remember reading his book “Capsize” as a teenager & being fascinated with the story. He had survived World War two as a submarine commander and apparently, according to various obituaries (he died in September at aged 102) was the only sub-captain to be in command of a sub on the first day of the war and still in command of (his third) sub at its conclusion.

His boat was designed by Angus Primrose, a Junk rigged Schooner, built in cold molded wood and unique, today, in having no life lines. He did have a jack line down the centerline of the boat though.

Galway Blazer was designed by Angus Primrose.  She was Junk Rigged-Image from the Junk Rig Association

I do remember reading, or perhaps surmising from his writings, that the mental toll taken as the Commander of a Submarine for 6 years was a major motivator in his interest in going to sea, on the surface, for a long time, alone. On his first attempt he was capsized in the vicinity Cape Town to which he was towed. He tried again in 1971 but adjourned to Fremantle due to illness. He subsequently tried again but ran into, or was run into by a large sea creature.  He finally left Freo. and made back to Plymouth UK on the third go.

That King is part of the very small pantheon of the pioneers of solo circumnavigation is without doubt but, he seems to have been a private man and did not pop up later  to become a public figure in sailing, or writing about, sailing.

Image of Commander Bill King

King in later life. Image from Yachting Monthly

My memory of King was re-ignited by an email I received last weekend from another circumnavigator, Scott Kuhner.  Scott and his wife, Kitty, have done I think two laps of the Blue Marble, the first in the early 1970’s, right about the time King was at sea of Cape Leeuwin, the SW corner of Australia. Scott is a recipient of my short-handed sailing emails and had sent me an email with a link to a video on King. I watched it and it confirmed my impressions from 40 plus years ago. In the video he makes reference to his reason for going off alone and the look in his face tells me he was reflecting back on what must have been an unbelievable 6 years.

If you think you are having, or have had, a bad-hair day, or even if you are not, watch this video.