Book Review: A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols

In 1968-69 the Sunday Times set up a competition that would reward the first man to sail by himself around the world, non-stop. In this book Peter Nichols examines the 9 men who took up the challenge and their attempt to claim the prize.


I loved this book, the story of the race and the dangers faced is perfect fodder for a thrilling, gripping true story, especially as I didn’t know the outcome.

Which, is kind of the sad thing about the whole event. The 9 men who set off on their boats were racing for a place in the history books, for the glory of being first. There was no greater reason, it wasn’t a voyage of discovery, it was just to see who could do it first. And now, some 50 years later their names have kind of been lost in history.

Nichols is an experiences sailor and this is clear in his writing, but in a largely positive way. He doesn’t bombard you with seafaring jargon or dull details, but uses his own experiences to gain further insight into what must have been going through the heads of these men and also the weird tricks that the sea can play on the mind.

The sheer pointlessness of the trip is evident to some of the competitors, hammered home to one when he listens to the Apollo 8 mission broadcasts, but in a way it’s what makes them so interesting. Their personal reasons for risking life and limb on the high seas are varied (national pride, financial incentives, love of the sea, wanting to test themselves, curiosity and a general sense of adventure). And they make for an interesting group of characters to follow in their adventure.

Nichols flits between them, and giving insight into their characters and using excerpts from their personal logs and memoirs to highlight how the journey effects their mental state.

They’re an interesting group of eccentrics and tough, no-nonsense types. Human moments shine through- lonely Christmases’, letters to wives and conflicting emotions regarding themselves and the journey. And you start rooting for some over others.

But there’s more going on than just man vs nature, with one competitor’s desperate need to win and desire to cheat are utterly captivating, building towards a rather tragic ending.

There are plenty of incidents to keep the reader engaged and Nichols keeps it all moving along at a good pace and captures the highs and lows throughout. It’s highly entertaining and thrilling, and a real page turner.

Verdict: A gripping and engaging story, extremely well written by Nichols. Worth checking out just to admire the courage and determination of the men involved.  8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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