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525. The marrying maiden (VIII)

The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was a non-stop single-handed round-the-world yacht race between 1968 and 1969. The event corresponded with the first Moon landing and certain comparisons were made between the two events—particularly the psychological isolation involved in long-distance single-handed yacht journeys and the moonshot. Competitors were completely alone—the winner, Robin Knox-Johnston, was alone for 312 days. Nine men set out from Britain: four retired before leaving the Atlantic Ocean; then another dropped out, and another sank—one man almost won but decided to keep on sailing, another committed suicide; and that left Robin Knox-Johnston.

Before the race commenced, doctors had expressed doubts about whether sanity could be maintained during such a prolonged period of isolation and danger; as it turned out, these concerns were justified: Donald Crowhurst, for his part, committed suicide at sea. Yet beforehand he and the would-be-winner Bernard Moitessier, who turned away from victory at the last moment, experienced respective spiritual awakenings; and, indeed, profound isolation—hermeticism—is generally a prerequisite for such beatific states, and the race provided just such conditions.

Donald Crowhurst, an Englishman, was a very inexperienced sailor but a talented engineer. His boat was filled with the latest equipment—it was also a relatively novel design, being a catamaran. As it turned out, everything went wrong for Crowhurst and he realised that to continue would be impossible; yet he had staked all his finances and his reputation on the race—he could not drop out. So he formulated a plan: he would linger around South America and the Caribbean until the race was firmly won and then limp home in third or fourth place—respectable but not noteworthy. To do so he would have to fake his logbooks, but being in last place nobody would be interested in the details.

Disaster struck: with so many people dropped out Crowhurst was automatically promoted to fastest competitor—he would be a hero, the fastest man round the world; his logbooks would be carefully scrutinised, and it is very difficult to “reverse-engineer” longitude and latitude observations in your head. Absorbed in his calculations, Crowhurst seems to have had some mystical insight; his remaining logbooks record his view that “the cosmic integral, the sum of man, adds up to nothing (0)”. As regular readers will know, mathematics is closely associated with mysticism; and the number zero has certain esoteric properties, symbolising eternity. Crowhurst seems to have cracked this insight while alone and absorbed in his mathematics; the official story is that he then jumped off the boat in the Caribbean or Atlantic, his boat was later found drifting—or perhaps he ascended.

The logbooks turned into a document that Crowhurst dubbed his “philosophy”. In true tech-gnosis terms, he said that man is played with by cosmic beings—life is a game of chess, the Devil on one side and God on the other. Strange, for before he began his journey Crowhurst was a stone-cold atheist. Spend a lot of time on your own doing mathematics and you will conclude that cosmic beings guide our destiny. Crowhurst said that God’s real trick—“because the truth would hurt too much”—was “that there is no good or evil, only truth”. Crowhurst had achieved gnosis.

Meanwhile, the Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, pictured above, came near to victory but turned away at the last moment and continued round the world again: “Anyone who does this for fame or money will break his neck,” he said—and Crowhurst certainly did it for both. Moitessier kept sailing for the rest of his life—never stopped treading the Way—and eschewed women, cautioning that a man should never compromise his ambitions for a woman. He seemed content to sail for the sake of sailing. Moitessier and Crowhurst represent two paths: the path of milk, in harmony with the sea and against feminine pollution; and the path of iron, tech-gnosis and possession by “the big zero” or the feminine—war with God, or harmony with the eternal order.


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