His Epic Sail Was a Hoax, and It Cost Him His Life

The sad tale of Donald Crowhurst's trip 'around the world'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2016 11:00 AM CST
Updated Dec 4, 2016 11:50 AM CST

(Newser) – In 1968, 36-year-old Donald Crowhurst set off from England to sail around the world as part of a competition. Crowhurst had his hopes set on using the resulting prize money to save his failing business, but he really had no business being in the race given that neither he nor his boat were equipped for such a journey. If you're expecting a miracle ending, forget it. As a feature at SportsNet explains, Crowhurst didn't even come close. That is not, however, what his family and the rest of the world initially thought because Crowhurst began reporting false positions via radio and keeping a fake log book. (At one point, he claimed 243 miles in a single day, which made headlines as a solo sailing record.) While the other competitors were actually sailing around the world, Crowhurst made it as far as South America and then turned back for home. He would never make it.

In July 1969, a Royal Mail ship found his boat drifting in the Atlantic. Crowhurst was nowhere to be found, but he left behind notes that admitted his hoax, and his tale became front-page news across Britain. His rambling, metaphysical writing also suggested that Crowhurst had begun losing his mind, perhaps because he was overwhelmed by the desperation of his plight, the guilt, the loneliness at sea, or all of above. The story includes interviews with his widow, who thinks her husband fell overboard accidentally, and his son. "I don't think at first it was a grand scheme," says the latter, theorizing that his father began fudging his records to save face when the journey began turning bad, only to see the hoax spiral out of control thanks to global attention to his trip. Click for the full story, which, yes, is being made into a Hollywood movie with Colin Firth. (Read more Longform stories.)

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