A VOYAGE FOR MADMEN

Peter Nichols, Author . HarperCollins $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-019764-3

In the psychedelic summer of 1968, as Apollo 8 soared toward the moon and the Democratic Convention crashed in Chicago, nine men tried finally to accomplish the sailor's age-old ultimate goal: a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the world. Nichols (Sea Change) deftly introduces myriad aspects of a voyage that promised "dubious, unquantifiable" rewards. He insightfully contextualizes the endeavor as an offshoot of Sir Francis Chichester's famous 1967 solo circumnavigation (with one stop), which represented to England a "longed-for" heroism. Detailing the British media's successful exploitation of the so-called race, he approaches the voyage as the remarkable result of nine men wishing to outdo Chichester. Nichols painstakingly describes the enormous difficulty of solo navigation in the pre-global positioning system of the 1960s. These "hardcase egomaniacs driven by complex desires and vainglory to attempt an extreme, life-threatening endeavor" used only rudimentary equipment and their wits. Nichols is at his liveliest when describing the only two participants who "were really happy aboard their boats": the French-Asian Bernard Moitessier, the most skilled sailor, whose mystical seamanship brings surprises, and the British Robin Knox-Johnson, who was energized during his journey by the memory of "the Elizabethan sea heroes of his youth." Nichols also delivers a compelling portrait of English Donald Crowhurst, an electronics engineer whose "supercharged personality" wreaked havoc on the entire race. While Nichols's pace is neither breakneck nor suspenseful, his careful details and psychological insight make for a riveting account of the triumphant human spirit. 16-page photo insert, 8 maps. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-06-095703-2
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