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The Golden Globe Race and the Roaring Forties

Published on: 27 June 2018

Roaring Forties

Only days away from the start of the 50th Golden Globe Race, the non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, British Marine member, Gordon Frickers, looks back on the painting he was commissioned to paint by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson and how it has become such an iconic piece of art.

The painting, “Roaring Forties”, was specially commissioned by Sir Robin and Sue Knox-Johnston for his 50th birthday, as were the signed ‘Heritage’ prints for collectors (a few remain, see below). This painting has deservedly gathered wonderful publicity for 'RKJ', become world famous and been reproduced in journals as varied as Lloyds List International, Yachting World and Reader’s Digest.

“Roaring Forties” in many ways sums up the spirit and achievement of the first single handed, non-stop circumnavigation by the 26-year-old Robin Knox-Johnston. Sailors gave the name “Roaring Forties” to the wildest ocean on the planet, below the 40th parallel, the Great Southern Ocean. Today it’s easy to forget, in 1968/9 Robin Knox-Johnston was out of contact for nearly six months because of radio transmitter problems, so was also taken for dead. Obituaries were prepared.

Sir Robin’s famous voyage into the history books is a story in its self which he described in his book “A World of my Own”. But Sir Robin also had an idea for a painting. The ultimate question was, who could paint it?

While preparing for a transatlantic solo race at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina, Plymouth 1989, Sir Robin saw some yachting, ‘Blue Funnel’ and ‘British India SNCo’ ship paintings. It is worth noting here that Sir Robin’s career started with British India on “Dumra”. Sir Robin asked to meet the artist who was (and still is) Gordon Frickers.

Sir Robin asked if he could make a painting of a particular moment showing his beloved ‘Suhali’ in the Southern Ocean? In Sir Robin’s letter, he asked if the scene, impossible to photograph, might make a painting? In a classic, cool comment, Sir Robin wrote: "I was working on the fore deck, as this huge Southern Ocean Greybeard approached. Not the biggest, but it looked dangerous, I climbed the rigging to avoid being swept away. For a brief inglorious moment there was me and two masts in sight and nothing but ocean in any direction for 2,000 miles" (‘Suhaili’ on the 16 December 1968).

Upon Sir Robin and Gordon’s meeting, the two quickly found they “spoke the same language”. The result of this first meeting was that Sir Robin invited Gordon to London for a working lunch during which Gordon asked Sir Robin to speak about the moment he had in mind. Having already read up on the behaviour, shape and size of giant Southern Ocean waves which are different from those of other oceans, while Sir Robin described his experience, Gordon started to produce concept sketches which lead to the “Roaring Forties”.

Sir Robin went on to commission two more painting from Gordon - "The Clipper Way" and "Dumra departing Bombay".

There still remain a few copies of “Roaring Forties” for the discerning collector. The signed collector’s edition is produced on the finest canvas using inks the manufacturer guarantees under normal circumstances for 70 years plus. Discover more about this very remarkable print, as well as more about Gordon Frickers at www.frickers.co.uk/art.