Round the World Yachtsman
In amongst the hundreds of photos from the Echo archives we found a lot about a young chap called Bob Hawkridge. All it said was he was a round the world yachtsman and not a lot else. From publishing one of the photos we began to hear that he had gone missing but still not much. We could find nothing about him on the internet. There was the possibility there might be cuttings in the five boxes of cuttings we have stored here but nothing jumped out at us. So it was decided to leave the story as it was until something turned up.
Well the other day it did when Bob’s daughter Tina contacted us asking if we had any photos. What fantastic news!! Hoping she could fill in the story for us we passed on copies of the photos we had of her father, mother and herself from 1972. She was able to send us a copy of the Standard dated four years after her father went missing which pretty much told his story.
She was happy for us to publish the photos and below we have transcribed the newspaper report written by reporter Graham Fitzgerald. (August 11, 1976)
If Bob Hawkridge had succeeded in his single-handed attempt to sail round the world, it’s likely, he would have earned himself a lasting place in the 20th Century Hall of Fame. He’d certainly have been the eternal pride of his homeland, Canvey Island. For not only would he have pulled off an intrepid feat of seamanship against all the odds, he would have become the youngest man ever to do so — and the only man ever to accomplish the feat in a boat he’d built himself.
But it’s unlikely that Bob got even half-way to the island of Tasmania off the South-East Coast of Australia, in his bid to sail 25,000 perilous miles.
Somewhere on the 6.000-mile leg across the Indian Ocean from — ironically — the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, Bob and his 33-foot yacht Dancing Spray went missing, without trace.
To this day nothing more has been heard. A beautiful young wife is apparently widowed, a pretty daughter — only three years old when he set sail — now has no father. The last message received by Carol Hawkridge, then 21, was on Bob’s 92nd day at sea, from the Cape of Good Hope. He radioed that all was well. That was four years ago.
Precisely what happened after that message is impossible to say — the possibilities are endless, but the most likely is that Bob was sunk or swept overboard in a storm. For an undertaking of this magnitude he was an in experienced mariner, having received little formal training, and having sailed mostly on fresh water.
But there are those who, despite the fact that he set sail from Falmouth four years ago yesterday (August 10), still cling to the hope and the belief that he is alive. Chief among them is his mother, Mrs. Marjorie Hawkridge.
Though improbable, it’s not impossible. Stranger things have happened at sea. But if Bob is alive, where is he, what sort of condition is he in and why hasn’t he contacted home?
But first the story of his daring attempt to follow in the wake of great solo round-the-world sailors like Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Alec Rose and Robin Knox-Johnson, who’d set the record of 312 days which Bob aimed to beat.
It had been Bob’s ambition from childhood to sail round the world alone. He was attracted to the sea perhaps influenced by the fact that his father, Eric Hawkridge, had served in the Navy during the war. Certainly by the time he was five, Bob, who was adopted by the Hawkridge’s as a six-week-old baby, had reputedly mastered every knot in the seafarer’s manual.
At any rate his decision to take on the greatest challenge of the sea was no mere whim. He’d begun to lay serious plans five years before. He knew, or at least thought he knew, what was expected of himself and his craft, which he built in three years. The total cost was to exceed £5.000, most of it coming from Bob’s own pocket. But islanders also rallied round, most importantly with a collection for a £600 radio, installed only hours before Bob was due to set off. Cash help also came from Canvey holiday camp bosses Jack King and Col. Horace Fielder, local building firm Laurence Homes and Bob’s boss Mr. Don Bolt and his workmates. A gift of fresh eggs was made by Canvey councillor Ray Howard. In all, Bob was to take with him a year’s supply of food, including 250 eggs and 1,500 tins of meat, varnished a week before his departure by Carol, to stop them from rusting. He also took a black model cat — for luck.
Not surprisingly, there were those who advised Bob against the trip, including his mum, who was worried about his inexperience. Attractive, dark-haired Carol, however, gave him her full support, bearing no resentment that she and daughter Tina were to be left alone for nine months and that the fulfilment of Bob’s dream had cost them all their savings. She is recorded as saying: “I knew Bob wanted to do this, even before we married (at 17). He has to get it off his chest and I want him to go ahead. He is the type who needs adventure — he’d make life a misery without it.”
Then the day for his departure from Canvey came. He was not to make an auspicious start, however, being first delayed by the installation of the radio — a last-minute gift. Bob, incredibly, had been resigned to sailing without one. And then a blanket of fog, which fell quite suddenly. But finally he got away, seven hours later than planned, and if the skies weren’t altogether clear and the winds fair, then at least he got a warm send-off from well-wishers, relatives and friends at Hole Haven quayside.
The delay was the first of a series of ill omens which might have deterred a more superstitious man. On his first night Bob ran aground on a sand bank. Then, after leaving his first port of call, Dover, where he’d picked up Carol and Tina, he hit bad weather and was forced to put ashore at Swanage, Dorset. Finally, an hour before his scheduled departure from Falmouth, a gasket blew on his generator. Eventually, at 18.01 hours on Thursday, August 10, 1972, he set out on his marathon journey. His declared intention was to make radio contact once a week; his aim to cover between 80 and 100 miles a day.
Here is a log of Bob’s known progress:
Day 22 — Carol (staying with her parents in Thundersley) received a message from Bob through Lloyd’s. “In good condition, no cause for concern. Proceeding trip.” The message had been relayed via Portis Head radio and the Yugoslav boat m.v. Jadro, which spotted Bob “making good progress” 1,300 miles from Falmouth.
Day 42 — Bob reported by the British anti-submarine frigate Londonderry 3,000 miles off the coast of Portugese Guinea.
Day 43 — Carol gets a message from Bob via Admiralty House “A-OK. Will be out of radio contact for one month. All is well on board. Bob.” He is shortly due to cross the Equator on his way to the Cape of Good Hope.
Day 58 — Bob is reported to have broken radio silence to say that he is “fine,” though behind schedule. The signal was picked up by South African fishing vessel the Gillian Higgins and Cape Town radio.
Day 66 — Bob is reported 500 miles from Cape Town.
Day 92 — Carol gets a Christmas message from Bob having completed nearly a quarter of the 25.000 miles. He wishes everyone a merry Christmas and reports that he is “well” and the Dancing Spray is “in good condition.” He would not be in radio contact for 70 days as he must now cross the Indian Ocean. His plan was to pass south of Australia near Tasmania.
It was to be the lone sailor’s last message. But what was to follow wasn’t a tense, nail-biting drama culminating in a full-scale search. Nobody could afford that. No, what followed were weeks, and then months, of worry, fear, and desperate hope.
On the 79th day after Bob’s last message Carol is reported to have requested the harbour authorities at Hobart the capital of Tasmania, to alert all shipping for Bob, but she wasn’t unduly worried. But another month passed with neither sight nor sound of Bob. It was now 109 days since his last message and he was officially declared missing. But Carol kept cool: “You can be becalmed for up to three months in the Indian Ocean,” she said.
On May 10 there was still no sign of Bob, but Bob Peters, who had been charting Bob’s progress for Canvey Council, expressed the hope of all when he declared: “I believe Bob is all right.”
Five days later hopes were raised by the news that another lone- sailor, Commander Bill King, had ended a five-month radio silence, thus proving that it was possible to lose contact for a long lime and still be safe.
The following day, May 16. Carol received a message of hope from Sir Alec Rose. He reminded her that he too, got “lost” for 100 days on the same leg of his voyage. Perhaps Bob had got water in his radio, he suggested.
But a year after he set out from Falmouth there was still no sign of Bob. It was clear now that something had happened. But what?
More waiting, more hoping and more praying. But finally, in January 1974, just over a year since Bob’s last message, Carol and Mr. Eric Hawkridge declared their belief that they would never see him again.
Lloyd’s, who had made two separate attempts to trace Bob, were of the same opinion, though they put it this way: “We can only presume he ran into difficulty. . .”
So finally it was agreed that Bob was lost at sea, though no official declaration of his death was yet possible.
Today, the mystery remains. Still the questions must be asked. Why did he do it? Why was no trace of him found? And if, as his mother believes, he’s still alive, where is he and why hasn’t he been in touch?
Quite probably the answer is the one that Bob himself gave: To sail round the world single-handed was his dream — a dream that had become an overwhelming passion. He found the call of the sea irresistible.
As for no trace of being found, it is just possible that his boat was smashed and washed up on a deserted shore; that he is now a castaway in some remote spot or uncharted island; or has become a Lotus Eater in some tropical paradise?
Perhaps these are the thoughts at the back of Mrs. Marjorie Hawkridge’s mind when she says; “He’s been missing so long that most people have given up hope of seeing him. But not me. I suppose it’s a mother’s instinct. I believe he’s still alive.”
He could be in Africa, or Australia to which the family emigrated when he was young, returning to England when he was four. But in any case, Bob was very much in love with his wife. Before setting sail he declared that his only fear was that someone might attempt to take her away from him while he was gone. Then there was Tina, other members of his family and friends. . . it seems incredible that Bob could have done a “John Stonehouse.”
It is all theorising, however, and life goes on and people readjust.
Carol, who refused to discuss her husband, has left their home in Third Walk, Canvey. Though where she’s living now, her mother, Mrs. Irene Glover, was not prepared to say. “We want to forget all about it, it’s in the past,” she said. Nor would she say whether Carol had found anyone else or was planning to remarry. Clearly, the experience must have been excruciating for her and her attitude is understandable.
But whatever hers and the feelings of others, the memory of Bob Hawkridge and his single-handed attempt to sail round the world will stay with us.
Can he really still be alive? What did happen to him out there on the infinite Indian Ocean? What is the truth about Canvey’s Young Man and the Sea?