In 1968, Donald Crowhurst’s business was failing.

Bankruptcy would be a terrible loss of face, unbearable.

What would other people think?

Perhaps there was one chance, a long shot.

The Daily Express was offering a prize for the first person to sail single-handedly, non-stop, around the world.

The prize was £5,000, the equivalent of £100,000 today; that would solve his problems and pay his debts.

He found a backer to pay to build a trimaran, even though he’d never sailed one before.

But the new boat leaked and the equipment didn’t work properly – he’d be crazy to carry on, but he couldn’t pull out now.

What would other people think?

So Donald Crowhurst started the race in a boat that wasn’t safe, a boat he couldn’t sail properly, to go non-stop around the world.

It soon became obvious he couldn’t do it.

But he couldn’t give up: the humiliation would be unbearable.

What would other people think?

He needed time to work out what to do, so he sailed around in circles off the coast of Brazil while he thought.

In those days there was no GPS, the only way anyone could keep track of him was by radio.

He needed time to think, so Donald Crowhurst sent back false progress reports as if he was still in the race.

He couldn’t see any alternative, but the longer it went on the worse the problem.

Imagine the shame if he was discovered to be faking the reports.

What would other people think?

Perhaps he could wait until everyone else had sailed round the world, then maybe he could slip in and join them on the final return leg.

If he made sure to finish last they wouldn’t bother checking his log.

So he kept reporting his progress around the world, while sailing in circles off the coast of Brazil.

Eventually he thought it must be safe to come home.

He could sail across the Atlantic and tuck in behind the last boat.

He reported his position and said he was heading for home.

But on the radio they said things had changed.

The boat ahead of him had sunk, he was now in first place, he was going to win.

And the bottom fell out of his world.

As the winner, it meant every single word of his log would now be scrutinised in forensic detail and he’d be found out.

Now he’d not only be bankrupt, he’d be exposed as a cheat and a liar in front of the world’s media.

What would other people think?

And Donald Crowhurst realised he’d finally run out of options.

A week or so later his boat was found drifting.

On board was the true log, and a pile of Donald Crowhurst’s writings as his mind unravelled.

He’d simply stepped off the boat in middle of the Atlantic.

He’d gone where he didn’t have to worry about other people’s opinions.

Like the rest of us, all our mind really cares about is other people’s opinions.

Our mind doesn’t care about us.


Incidentally, Robin Knox Johnson won the race.

He gave all the prize money to Donald Crowhurst’s family.