Once Lost at Sea, an English Boat Finds a Home in Cayman Brac

In 1969, a humble electrical engineer from Teignmouth, England signed up to compete in the first solo round-the-world race.


In 1969, a humble electrical engineer from Teignmouth, England signed up to compete in the first solo round-the-world sailboat race, the Golden Globe. Donald Crowhurst was in over his head before even leaving the dock. His experimental trimaran, the Teignmouth Electron, much of which he built himself, left England on the last possible day, leaving him weeks behind the rest of the fleet. He limped across the Atlantic, making it as far as the coast of Brazil before surrendering to mechanical failure. While languishing in the tropical doldrums to repair his vessel, Crowhurst hatched a plan: he would lie in radio silence, faking log entries to show progress, until the rest the fleet rounded Cape Horn and headed north back to Europe. Then he would slip in behind them and finish in a blaze of glory. It was a brilliantly devious plan, if not for the demon sitting on Crowhurst’s shoulder.

Solo sailing is not for the faint of heart. Besides the obvious physical, mechanical and natural challenges, there is the specter of spending so much time in one’s own company. Days after Crowhurst surreptitiously rejoined the fleet (now down to two other boats), his radio transmissions became increasingly bizarre, coordinates mixed with non-sequitur babble. But the excitement back home grew, not only at his reemergence but his excellent position in the race. What fanfare awaited him back in England? Perhaps a knighthood? But then suddenly, Crowhurst dropped off the face of the Earth.

A passing freighter found the Teignmouth Electron drifting, abandoned, in the middle of the Atlantic. There was no sign of Crowhurst, his logbook filled with thousands of words of gibberish the only hint at his mental state towards the end. The boat was transported to the Caribbean, Crowhurst’s belongings returned to England, his fate to be debated forever. The fate of the trimaran took a different turn, though, serving as a snorkeling charter for a number of years, its unwitting, frolicking passengers seemingly unaware of its history. At some point, the Teignmouth Electron was abandoned on a beach on Cayman Brac. It sat decomposing among some scrubby pines in the sand until Hurricane Ivan blew in and dealt a death blow. Its three hulls were crushed and pushed further inland, fiberglass tearing and wood splitting. Nature slowly colonized it, a sort of dry-land artificial reef. You can still find it if you look hard enough on the southwest end of the island. On its hull, the words Teignmouth Electron are faded but still visible. But then in an ironic sort of palimpsest, someone has spray painted over it with the words “Dream Boat”.

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