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Last Nautical Miles In Commander Bill King's Galway Blazer II Log Recalled

22nd May 2023
The late Commander Bill King on the cover of the November 1968 edition of South African Yachting
The late Commander Bill King on the cover of the November 1968 edition of South African Yachting

“Light, backing -fluctuating” was how the late Commander Bill King described winds in the final frustrating days of his successful solo sail around the world half a century ago.

The log entry for his schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973, starts with a compass bearing of 70 degrees, with force three winds given as south-south-easterly and dropping.

The log entry for the schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973The log entry for the schooner Galway Blazer II, recorded in pencil for May 22nd, 1973

“At 0900, he notes the time zone change to British Standard Time,” Galway Bay Sailing Club commodore Johnny Shorten says.

“From midday, the winds become light, backing and fluctuating, eventually going southerly force three at midnight,” Shorten, who was provided with the log by King’s daughter, Leonie, in advance of the golden jubilee of the circumnavigation, observes.

The barometer was steady at 1014, and the total distance run was 57 nautical miles.

At this stage, the former submarine commander’s wife, author Anita Leslie, knew he was safe after a radio silence of five months after he had left Australia.

As Afloat reported yesterday, the family in Oranmore Castle, Galway, had received a telegram giving King’s position off the Bay of Biscay on May 13th, 1973 – the first communication from him since December 10th, 1972, six days after he had left Perth.

He had already made newspaper headlines, with shipping being asked to look out for the junk-rigged schooner.

It was not the first time King had been in newspapers, however. The decorated second world submarine commander had been the oldest participant in the Sunday Times Golden Globe round-world race in 1968.

The 1968 capsize off Capetown newspaper reportThe 1968 capsize off Capetown newspaper report

He was lying third in the race in the 42-ft Galway Blazer II when he was forced to pull out after a capsize off South Africa on October 31st, 1968.

Ahead of him at the time were Robin Knox-Johnston, then 29 years old in his 30ft ketch, Suhaili, and Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, aged 32, in Joshua.

Newspaper reports of this, which his family have given to the Marine Institute in Galway, include an interview King gave to Express journalist Michael Steemson - the Beaverbrook-owned newspaper group had been sponsoring him in the race.

The 1968 ashore at Capetown newspaper reportThe 1968 ashore at Capetown newspaper report

He told Steemsom by radio that the vessel rolled in the capsize while he was down below – he was within 30 seconds of going on deck and “would certainly have been swept away and drowned”, Steemsom noted later.

The schooner was dismasted, but King had mended his self-steering gear with a spare wind vane, and had hoisted his jury-rig mast.

“I regret I’ve given up my attempt to sail around the world this year, but I intend to try and get into Capetown,”King told him.

The journalist noted he sounded “tired, but not dispirited”.

In the same newspaper report of November 1968, the Express carried a comment from “Mrs King” – as in Anita Leslie - in Oranmore.

“I think it is the wise thing to do if his mast is gone,”she told the newspaper. “It’s very disappointing, but I don’t think he had any other option.”

“In a way, I am rather relieved,”she said. “No wife could be happy with the idea of her husband continuing in a race like that with a jury rig…”

The countdown continues in Afloat tomorrow…

Published in Solo Sailing, Bill King Team

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