LAST VOYAGES by Nicholas Gray
Review by Nigel Wollen, Past Commodore of the Royal Cruising Club
“This is an unusual and absorbing book which describes the exploits and adventures of eleven great sailors, some very well known and others less so, all of whom lost their lives at sea. The subject matter is not as depressing as it sounds. Nicholas Gray has succeeded in making it more of a celebration of the lives and achievements of these remarkable people.
The author knew many of the sailors who are featured, and writes in an engaging, almost conversational, style with much hitherto unpublished background detail and reminiscences.
It includes chapters on two eminent RCC members, Bill Tilman and Mike McMullen. The gruff Tilman, in his heavy old pilot cutter, and the ebullient McMullen, in his bright yellow racing trimaran Three Cheers could hardly have been more different, but it was gratifying to learn that Tilman was once taken for a spin on Three Cheers following a chance meeting of the two skippers in a pub, and had the time of his life. Their final voyages took place in very different circumstances and are described with great respect and poignancy.
Each story is very different, but all are fascinating. Some, such as Donald Crowhurst’s last voyage, are truly tragic. The amazing exploits of the likes of Eric Tabarly are so very different to those of Philip Walwyn or Angus Primrose, yet one is left with a consistent feeling of admiration for the seamanship, endurance and, above all, for the sense of fun that prevailed throughout. They all lived life to the full, and Last Voyages is a very fitting tribute.” © Nigel Wollen, Feb 2017
Review from Yachting Life, March 2017
“Far away from these inshore waters are the stirring tales told in a new book, Last Voyages by Nicholas Gray, published by Fernhurst Books. Each story recounts the last journey of a famous ocean going sailor.
Most of the sailors and their boats disappeared without trace, and the author attempts to piece together afterwards what happened, and to give a portrait of each sailor and boat. Gray, a keen long distance sailor himself, met or knew most of the sailors and their boats.
The sailors vary from one or two who took voyages beyond their limits, to giants of the ocean racing scene such as Alain Colas and Eric Tabarly. Gray uses source material to construct each tale. For those sailors who he knew better, he progresses beyond an account of a voyage to a much richer character portrait, allowing the reader to share both the challenges of these ambitious voyages and what the sailor was going through. The sailors are a remarkable collection.”
Ocean Cruising Club Flying Fish
“I really enjoyed Last Voyages. At first glance the subject matter ‘The Lives and Tragic Loss of Remarkable Sailors Who Never Returned’ might sound depressing or even morbid, but all those selected by Nicholas Gray –in once case an entire crew – were doing what they had chosen to do. The tone is calm and factual, avoiding any hint of the sensationalism to be found in other books on similar themes, and what might have been little more than an anthology of well-known tales is brought into sharp focus by the fact that the author knew – and in many cases had either sailed with or competed against – a large proportion of the sailors whose final voyages are recounted here. He is also an outstandingly good writer.
The Last Voyages are described in eleven chapters arranged in generally chronological order, from 1949 and Frank Davison – husband of Ann Davison, who later became the first woman to cross the Atlantic singlehanded – to Philip Walwyn in August 2015. Each is written with real understanding of the individual circumstances, and it is here that the author’s own extensive cruising and racing experience shines through. A sailor all his life, in 1978 Nicholas Gray became hooked on fast multihulls and went on to class wins in the 1979 AZAB and 1982 Round Britain and Ireland races before reverting to classic wooden yachts. In some cases – as with the loss of Bucks Fizz and her four crew in the 1979 Fastnet Race – he makes informed comment at the end, honestly assessing that his own very similar Whisky Jack would have been unlikely to have survived such conditions.
One or two of the lives lost are due to inexperience – being in the wrong boat in the wrong place at the wrong time – and at least one is partially down to poor preparation. A few are the result of sheer ill luck, while others lie somewhere in between. In each case the author tells us first about the person’s life and , in many cases, their very significant achievements in the world of sailing. Only then does he lead into the voyage which led to their death.
The afterword provides additional food for thought, drawing practical lessons from some of the losses – would a different course of action have had to a happier outcome? – as well as underlining the author’s deep humanity and understanding of human nature.
Last Voyages is a book relevant to all OCC members, both for the lessons in its pages and the light it throws on some of the most celebrated sailors of recent decades. Very highly recommended.”
Peter Valentine Preece (Poet, Author, Member of the Welsh Academy)
“The first striking thing about this book is Nicholas Gray’s total mastery of his subject material. Not only did he know personally many of the fascinating characters but he has extensive sailing experience and