Friday 20 April 2012

Donald, where are you?

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We could do a Donald Crowhurst. The thought's been at the back of our minds for some time now, as the deadline for departure hurtles towards us and the TO DO list on the bathroom door only gets longer. 
Amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst

When yachtie  Crowhurst set off in the autumn of 1968 to race around the world single handed and non-stop, both he and his trimaran Teignmouth Electron were ill prepared. He made the start line, but as the days at sea turned into weeks he realized his boat was not up to the task. 
Judy at work on the TO DO list. As we think of things, they're written on stickies and posted on the bathroom door under the heading TO DO. As we work on them, they're moved across to DOING and finally DONE. But the list of TO DOs never seems to get any shorter.

So he began keeping a second, false log in which he recorded positions which indicated he was making good progress in his circumnavigation.  In reality, he had abandoned the race and never left the Atlantic. His plan was to rejoin the other boats as they headed towards the finish. According to Nicolas Tomalin's definitive book on the subject, Crowhurst went mad instead and stepped off the side of his boat. It was found a few weeks later, drifting in calm seas with its sails up, a ghostly Marie Celeste.

Judy and friends - mostly from the South America gang of 1988
Our goals are neither as ambitious nor require as much preparation as Crowhurst's. After all how difficult can it be to pedal a tandem across Europe, and then South East Asia and then ... well, who knows?Despite that, the three weeks since Judy and I left work have been frantic. 
On the town in  Devonport, Auckland

Wonderful farewells from colleagues at Martelli McKegg and TV3 have been followed by get togethers with family and friends and there are still more to come. In between, we've sifted through 18 years of household detritus - throwing away some stuff, holding a garage sale of possessions that might be worth something to somebody, and then packing what was left so it could go into storage. 

We've both felt our first twinges of sadness - packing up my favourite books was difficult, not knowing when I'll turn their pages again. And Judy had a bad moment as she sorted through her tramping gear - the woolly hats, gloves and gaiters a reminder of the pleasure we've enjoyed walking the hills, mountain passes and river valleys of New Zealand.

The house echoes now as we roam from empty room to empty room, and for the first time the reality of what we are doing is sinking in. Very soon we will be adrift on our own sea, and the months of planning will prove adequate, or they won't. If they don't, we may try the Crowhurst approach. 

Sisters doing it for themselves. Lesley on flute, Judy on violin as they  join in a work by Mozart
We fancy cycling as far as a small French village, preferably in the south where the weather will be sunnier. There we'll find a pleasant campground not too far from a boulangerie and a patisserie and with ready access to a large vat of red wine. And when we're not eating and drinking, we'll write blogs falsifying our journey across Europe. We'll report that we're flitting eastwards with a stiff tailwind - only pausing to scale the occasional Matterhorn, recover from a raucous night out with the Roma in Bulgaria or to enjoy the bathhouses of Istanbul. We figure that with the aid of the Internet and a good supply of Lonely Planets it shouldn't be hard to make up convincing accounts.

With Neville Johnson
In the end, Donald Crowhurst's nerve failed him and he couldn't go through with the lies and deceit. The difference is that instead of drifting alone in the Atlantic, we'll be together lying on our backs in the sunny grass, several bottles of rose to hand and with the sound of the Loire trickling by. The temptation to stay where we are will be great. Our reality is that we may never leave France.

A song based on Crowhurst's story can be found at:


  1. Outstanding ! May the Crowhurst disease hit you at a vineyard in the south of France, never to leave the wonderous spot :-) Mike your photo showing contemplation takes the number one spot in the newsroom, over the top of the shallow womens magazine articles.

    And certainly looking forward to reading and seeing more.


  2. Could your tandem meanderings find the two of you near Bordeaux in the beginning of July this year? If so, I could be company for a few days. I'm doing a 7 day bike ride from Bergerac to Bordeaux, starting July 3. I'll be following your blog: I leave for Europe June 29 and the best way of contacting me whilst I'm in Europe will be via email at Before that time, you can get me on


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