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The Teignmouth Electron set sail for the open ocean on October 31st, 1968.
At the helm was Donald Crowhurst, a down-on-his luck entrepreneur and hobbyist sailor seeking the prestige (and prize money) of winning the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a round-the-world, non-stop solo sailing voyage.
The race attracted well-salted helmsmen from several nations, all of whom had ample experience in the world's oceans. Crowhurst, a novice sailor, was woefully underprepared and lacked crucial experience. But Crownurst wasn't naive. He believed that his navigational and safety equipment could make up for his nautical deficits. An inventor and businessman, Crowhurst had developed a handheld device - the Navicator - that would allow the user to acquire bearings from marine and aviation radio beacons. Crowhurst had also developed a complex system that incorporated an inflatable buoy attached to the mast and ballast pumps to keep his trimaran from capsizing (the multi-hulled vessels are nearly impossible to right - unlike single-hulled ones - once overturned).
Mortgaged to the hilt, under-provisioned and with most of his safety gear still unfinished and untested, Crowhurst set sail from Teignmouth, England.
It didn't take long for Crowhurst to discover that his lack of preparedness and his inexperience as a sailor were serious detriments - by December he had fallen off course and began sailing erratically, eventually finding himself off the eastern coast of South America.
But Crowhurst, remembering the financial ruin he would face if he turned back to England, hatched a new scheme.
Hiding his craft in small coves and islands, Crowhurst began sending cryptic radio messages with vague bearings and coordinates, suggesting to racing officials - and the world - that he was still very much in the race. Crowhurst believed that he could remain safely tucked out of sight and wait for the other vessels to traverse the Pacific. Once they rounded Cape Horn and turned northward toward England, Crowhurst would sneak back into the race. He further believed that if he could merely finish, while he wouldn't be entitled to a purse, the notoriety and fame would be enough to kickstart his failing business.
But by December, he was being heralded as the race leader. And by March of 1969, the group was thinning, and while one sailor, Robin Knox-Johnston, had completed the race, the eyes of the world were turned to Crowhurst, who was believed to be in second place or even a time contender for first.
Nigel Tetley, a South African native, was the true second place holder, but because of Crowhurst's deception, he believed himself to be fighting for second place. But, his vessel, the Victress, was failing. Not wanting to cede the position, he sailed hard, pushing the boat too far. In May, with only 1,200 nautical to go, the Victress broke apart, leaving Tetley adrift in his life raft.
On July 10, 1969, the Teignmouth Electron was discovered in the open Atlantic. There was no sign of Crowhurst.
The leading theory is that Crowhurst simply jumped overboard, whether driven by guilt or swayed by exhaustion, and was drowned, as there were no signs of struggle, injury of foul play. But some contend that Crowhurst left his world - the boat, his family, his crushing debt - behind, striking up a new life on the shore of some forgotten island in the warm climes of the Caribbean.
And while history doesn't reveal to us what Crowhurst was wearing, it's very plausible that he would have chosen a watch like this as his sole companion. Robust and dependable, he would have needed a watch that was legible, mechanically suited for his voyage, and strong enough to survive the onslaught of the sea. And, if Crownhurst is still out there somewhere, running from the world, we'd wager this Breitling would still be running, right alongside him.
Available exclusively at Marshall Pierce.
Stainless steel case is approximately 42.5mm (excluding crown). Breitling Yachting Ref. 7650. Venus Calibre 178 Manually-Wound Chronograph Movement. Circa late 1960s.
Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition overall with sharp bevels on the lugs. Case does have some signs of use and wear throughout, in keeping with age, including some dings and scratches on the sides of the case and on the lower left lug. Bezel has some signs of wear and use, with some markings on the bezel having rubbed away. Dial is in excellent condition with crisp printing and vibrant colors. Luminescent elements of the hour markers and hands have gained a fine, even, greenish patina over time. Breitling crown. Breitling case back has some scratches but is in otherwise good condition.
Includes one 22mm nylon strap from Crown & Buckle.