A Voyage for Madmen

by Peter Nichols

Paperback, 2002



Call number




Harper Perennial (2002), Edition: Reprint, 336 pages


In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever held: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe nonstop. It was a feat that had never been accomplished and one that would forever change the face of sailing. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line and earn fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the reward was madness, failure, and death. In this extraordinary book, Peter Nichols chronicles a contest of the individual against the sea, waged at a time before cell phones, satellite dishes, and electronic positioning systems. A Voyage for Madmen is a tale of sailors driven by their own dreams and demons, of horrific storms in the Southern Ocean, and of those riveting moments when a split-second decision means the difference between life and death.… (more)

Media reviews

A Voyage for Madmen is a book about boats and the sea, about wind and waves and frightening, lonely places. But more than that, it is about sad, heroic characters, and Nichols does characters like a novelist does.

User reviews

LibraryThing member uryjm
A tremendous account of the first round the world yacht race, that gripped like an anchor thrown into the Amazon jungle. All the main characters were clearly drawn, and objectively assessed for their strengths and failings.
LibraryThing member lndgrr
Outstanding. Nichols' command of language is amazing.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I knew nothing about the (in)famous 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, but wow this book delivers. Not only a great story, with incredible characters, the author is master sailor who puts things in context. For example. he doesn't just say the boat "heaved too", he explains what it is, why it
Show More
has fallen out of favor, why it was important in this race, etc.. you learn a lot about long-distance small-boat blue-ocean voyaging, technically and psychologically. It reminds me of long-distance lightweight hiking, or climbing rope-free, sports with a natural purity. If I remember anything it will be that every boat is unique, as is every captain, and storm - these complexities make it nearly impossible to prepare for every eventuality. A person can learn to sail their entire lives, yet still come across unexpected and deadly challenges. I suspect the most successful have the ability to be flexible and try new things without resorting to "rules", but also know when to play straight. Good life lessons generally. Anyway, super-impressed and hope to read some of the memoirs this book is based on.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JTJonesberry
For sailors who've gotten too full of themselves. Watching a suicide in slow motion.
LibraryThing member kenno82
I had seen the documentary of the first Golden Globe race in 1968 (Deep Water), a couple of years before reading Nichols' book. The documentary centred on the story of Donald Crowhurst. At the time, I didn't understand how compelling the stories of the other participants were.

I recommend Nichols'
Show More
book to anyone who is unaware of the race. Be warned, at times there is some heavy technical commentary on yachting strategies. I would've also enjoyed the book to go for a little longer. For what it's worth, Deep Water is also worth watching.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Eliz12
Very, very good book. At times a bit too technical for me, and I would have liked to know more about the men themselves and their daily lives at sea, not simply their reactions to crises.
LibraryThing member amerynth
Peter Nichols has put together a great little book on the 1969 Golden Globe race to be the first man to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping in any ports along the way. "A Voyage for Madmen" gives a great overview of the race and varying personalities involved -- from
Show More
professional maritime men to vagabond sailors to one contestant who didn't even learn to sail until he was on his way. Only one person completed the race.

I've read other accounts of the race (including the excellent "The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst" and Moitessier's "The Long Way") which are fantastic accounts themselves and perhaps slightly more enjoyable.

Nichols' book excels in by providing a good description of everyone in the race. He is more interested in the technical differences between the competitors' boats and their tactics for dealing with the Roaring Forties than providing particularly deep character studies. However, it's a nice overview of the race and the people involved and makes for a compelling read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member nandadevi
This is an essential companion to Tomalin and Hall's 'The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst' which is one of the finest - and most disturbing - accounts ever written of a man's descent into madness. Nichols tells the story of the other boats in this race around the world from which only one
Show More
returned, the others succumbing the harshness of a race never attempted before, or their own versions of madness. Perhaps the most troubled story was that of Nigel Tetley, who destroyed his own yacht trying to keep up with the false progress being reported by Crowhurst, and then destroyed himself even more dramatically than Crowhurst. Often there's an element of madness in long distance sailors, like the mountaineers who go back to the high peaks where sooner or later nearly all meet their deaths, but their is also an exceptionalism. Nichols explores the thin line between greatness and madness and the circumstances in which men and women cross that line and some never come back.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Riveting. A window onto another world. A bunch of people with great contrasts of experience and character, doing something extraordinary in what is nearly, though not quite, the modern world. The author did a great job keeping a balance with the thrills and spills and the repeating monotony of life
Show More
at sea on your own.
Show Less
LibraryThing member thorold
A nice, straightforward summary of the notorious 1968 singlehanded Round-the-World race. It doesn't add a huge amount to the several other first- and second-hand accounts of the race I have read, but Nichols does make an effort to provide a bit of perspective (giving modern readers some idea why
Show More
the British and French public of the time were so hungry for this kind of pointless heroic exploit, for instance).

The viewpoint Nichols adopts is that of someone who has done a bit of ocean sailing but not so much that he takes it for granted. This allows him, without sounding either too patronising or too technical, to explain the special features of long-distance cruising anno 1968 in such a way that they make sense to the average modern weekend sailor. From a "helicopter view" forty years on, we might conclude that what set Moitessier and Knox-Johnson apart from the others was that they were using boats in which they had already successfully made long voyages, whilst the others were either not so experienced or in untried purpose-built boats (in Crowhurst's case both). Nichols goes a bit deeper than this, and looks in detail at how the technical features of the boats and the psychological state of the sailors affected their chances of success (although of course luck and weather played a big part too). I found it particularly interesting how much the information (or absence of information) they had about the progress of their rivals affected all the participants.

Probably a good book to read if you haven't yet read La longue route and The strange voyage of Donald Crowhurst, but a bit redundant if you already have.
Show Less
LibraryThing member vguy
Not my field (I've only been sailing once) but brings it to life both as technical challenge and human drama. Success and failure clearly shown as result of personality, rather than luck or skill. The phlegmatic Knox-Johnston making himself comfortable as he seems to float to victory contrasts with
Show More
the self-punishing John Rifgway who gives up after a struggle, Moltessier who just gives up all too easily and the manic, delusional Crowhurst who ends up dead.
Show Less
LibraryThing member justmum
A book about the various men who took part in the first round the world single handed boat/yacht race which occurred in the late 1960's. A lot of the text is taken directly from the men's daily log books. Shows both the bravery and foolishness of men, the intense preparations needed for such a
Show More
voyage and is also historical now with all the advances in marine technology. A good read with some very surprising outcomes. Truth is stranger than fiction so they say.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Riveting. A window onto another world. A bunch of people with great contrasts of experience and character, doing something extraordinary in what is nearly, though not quite, the modern world. The author did a great job keeping a balance with the thrills and spills and the repeating monotony of life
Show More
at sea on your own.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kslade
Fascinating story of round-the-world sailors back in about 1969 and how one guy faked it.
LibraryThing member kropferama
Maybe the moment is overtaking me but this is one of the best books I have ever read. I did not plan to try to finish the entire book today but the power of it kept me turning the pages all morning and all afternoon. Peter Nichols tells a story of truly heroic and tragic proportions. Nine men
Show More
attempting to race each other solo around the world without stopping something that had never been done before. Great care went into developing each of the nine sailors lived and ambitions. So extraordinary you will be with them on the voyage and read from the comfort of your chair the incredible hardships and isolation that few humans will ever endured sailing thousands of miles from land in the harshest conditions on the face of the earth. Without giving away any endings it is an experience that is truly life-changing for all nine.
Show Less
LibraryThing member David-Block
The first Golden Globe "race". Now the Vendee Globe. Dangerous sailing, largely under supervised and bare of requirements or rules. Much about the contestants including Donald Crowhurst.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

336 p.; 8.1 x 0.8 inches


Page: 0.59 seconds