A Voyage for Madmen was a real treat, a riveting read that I devoured over the course of one day and that was all I’d then talk about to my friends for another. In recent years I’ve discovered that I have a bit of a thing for tales of people enduring extreme challenges – be they explorers, climbers, sailors or their like – and finding out what they’re really made of (this despite, or maybe because of my personally being a very cautious person). A Voyage for Madmen is a cracking entry in that genre, and has sparked a thirst for more which has led me to fill my wish-list with all sorts of sailor’s books I’d have never thought were my cup of tea before reading this.
A Voyage for Madmen tells the tale of the 1968 Golden Globe race, a challenge to single-handedly non-stop circumnavigate the world – sponsored by the Sunday Times when they heard news of a couple of men about to separately attempt the feat. Those men were soon joined by others until they were nine in total, each feeling that they had a chance of being the first and who varied from experienced sailors to complete novices.
A Voyage for Madmen tells of each of their awe inspiring journeys and how their different characters influenced their outcomes. It’s soon very clear who of our sailors are truly in their element at sea and it was deeply interesting to see how each of the men dealt with their situations – Bernard Moitessier and Robin Knox-Johnstone soon became my favourites, while I also harboured a soft spot for Nigel Tetley who reminded me of Jack Aubrey, with his quaffing of oysters and roast pheasant while drinking wine and listening to classical music. But even more interesting is the man who decided to fake his race instead…
The book really captures the sheer exhilaration of such a journey, as well as the solitude and the terrifying power of the sea. The descriptions alone of sailing in the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties are terrifying – I can’t imagine ever having the stones to actually do it with an experienced crew, let alone on my own – and this only got more interesting as the faker got deeper and deeper into his carefully plotted deception.
I finished this book as excited as I was reading it, and harbouring a deep certainty that I am terribly unsuited to going to sea myself.