53 years after it was stolen, a compass that belonged to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and was used to navigate his 32ft Bermudan ketch, Suhaili, around the world solo and nonstop has been handed into a museum.
In 1969, Suhaili’s Merchant Navy lifeboat compass was stolen while she was at a fete in Rochdale. This was just months after Sir Robin finished the 1968-69 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race and was the first person to sail around the world solo non-stop.
Sir Robin recalled the incident: ‘I came down one morning and found the compass missing. I reported it to the police, but there were no clues for them to follow up, so I just eventually thought, well someday someone has stolen that and will put it on their boat and will wonder why this white-haired, white-bearded bloke comes over and kicks their bloody head in!’ Police conducted an investigation, but the instrument never turned up.
The stolen compass was handed into the Holyhead Maritime Museum in North Wales last week, much to the surprise of museum staff, who informed Sir Robin of the good news.
Sir Robin had been able to identify the compass by looking at pictures sent by the archivist to the museum manager, Eric Anthony, who confirmed that Suhaili had indeed been in Rochdale.
A woman delivering the artefact to the museum explained it was taken from Suhaili by a late friend of her husband.
Sir Robin said he was ‘very grateful’ that the stolen compass had now been found.
‘I built the compass when I was building Suhaili in Bombay. It is a standard Merchant Navy Lifeboat compass I bought at the shipbreakers in Darukhaner in Bombay. I made the wooden part from teak. It got Suhaili back from India via Cape Horn and around the world a year later so it survived a great amount of abuse and I was very fond of it. It has a bit of slight damage which can be dealt with like the glass of the window is missing and the brass window cover, but that can be put right,’ he added.
During the 1968-69 Golden Globe Race, there were no satellites so ‘we were totally dependent on the compass for the direction we were going, otherwise we were just dependent on the sextant and chronometer. There wasn’t anything else, so that compass was absolutely vital.’
In the short term, Sir Robin is happy that the stolen compass will remain on display at the Holyhead Maritime Museum.
‘I thought it would be nice for the museum if they could get a bit of publicity and maybe a bit more money. They took the trouble to contact me to tell me that it had been returned so I think they need something in return,’ he mentioned.
While Sir Robin has recovered the compass, he said he won’t reinstall it on Suhaili since after ‘this publicity there is bound to be someone who would steal it again, but it’s lovely that it has been found.’