Submarine chief sailed solo around the world in self-built vessel
BILL KING: BILL KING, the last surviving submarine commander from the second World War who completed a solo circumnavigation of the world in 1973 in a purpose-built boat he built himself, has died at the age of 102.
The British submariner and yachtsman operated an organic farm in Co Galway for more than 60 years.
Having planned to undertake his circumnavigation for many years, in 1968 he became the oldest participant in the inaugural Sunday Times Golden Globe race. He joined the race to recover psychologically from the effects of his wartime service which, he said, had left him a “nervous wreck”.
Sailing the junk rigged schooner Galway Blazer II, during the race he lived on raw food, including fruit mixed with almond paste, as well as green sprouts he grew on board. He passed the time reading spiritual writings along with the novels of Tolstoy, and said the solitude did not bother him because of the beauty that surrounded him. He found himself alone with God, he recalled, as sin was not an option.
After the schooner capsized in 50ft waves and both masts were broken northeast of Gough Island in the south Atlantic, he was towed to Cape Town.
A second attempt to circumnavigate in 1969 also failed. A further attempt in 1970 when he again sailed Galway Blazer II was interrupted when illness and hull damage forced him ashore in Australia. Having resumed his journey in December 1971, a large sea creature, either a whale or shark, damaged his boat about 400 miles southwest of Freemantle. After three days carrying out emergency repairs at sea he returned to Freemantle, “barely able to limp into port”.
King eventually realised his ambition, completing his global circumnavigation in 1973. In 1975 the Cruising Club of America awarded him the Blue Water Medal to mark his achievement.
William Donald Aelian King was born in 1910, the son of William Albert de Courcy King and Georgina Marie MacKenzie. His father, who joined the Royal Engineers in 1894, served with the 36th (Ulster) Division in Belgium during the first World War. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1916, and died on the Western Front in 1917.
King was brought up by his mother and grandmother, a formidable woman who learned to ski at 75 and still sailed in her 80s. Possibly because of her influence, after preparatory school he was sent to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where in addition to his studies he enjoyed boxing and long-distance running.
He began serving with the Royal Navy in 1927, and was posted to the battleship Resolution, patrolling the Mediterranean. Postings to a variety of vessels in other locations followed and in 1939 he was appointed commanding officer of Snapper. Under his command, the submarine sank six enemy ships while patrolling the North Sea in the first year of the second World War.
During the war he was promoted to commander and awarded seven medals, including the DSO and Distinguished Service Cross. Other commands he held included the Trusty and Telemachus, which in 1944 sank the Japanese submarine 1-166. Arising from this action, a bar was added to his DSO.
Sixty years later, in 2004, he received two visitors at his home in Oranmore Castle: Akira Tsurukame, whose father perished on board 1-166, and Katja Boonstra-Blom, whose father died when the 1-166 sank the Dutch submarine K XVI. Together, they planted a tree in the grounds in memory of his guests’ fathers.
He ended his Royal Navy career as executive officer of the submarine depot ship Forth, and formally retired in 1948.
In 1949 he married Anita Leslie, a distant cousin of Winston Churchill who had been an ambulance driver with the Free French Army and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by General Charles de Gaulle. The couple lived in a hunting lodge on the lands of Oranmore Castle, which they were reported to have bought for £200. He developed an organic farm and garden, and they both hunted with the Galway Blazers.
He was not the first member of his family to reside in Galway. His grandfather William King was the first professor of natural history and geology at Queen’s College Galway, now NUI Galway.
King wrote an account of his wartime experiences, The Stick and the Stars, which was published in 1958. He wrote of his sailing adventures in two more books, Capsize (1969) and Adventure in Depth ((1975).
He was filmed for two documentaries about the Golden Globe race, and in 2009 his great grandnephew Luke Leslie produced the short film King of the Waves, which dramatised his solo circumnavigation. It was screened before King and his family on his 99th birthday, after which he took to the dance floor until the early hours of the morning.
Predeceased by his wife in 1984, he is survived by his son Tarka and daughter Leonie.
William Donal Aelian (Bill) King: born June 23rd, 1910; died September 21st, 2012