The following extracts are from Merton Naydler's excellent account of Johnstone and Hoare’s attempt: The Penance Way: The mystery of Puffin’s Atlantic voyage

David Johnstone – A brief profile

34, unmarried, 6’3” (1.89m), 17 stone (238lbs, 108kgs), journalist.

‘He once said that for him life consisted of a search for worthwhile challenges.  It was the acceptance of the challenge which mattered, not its fulfilment, and thus he only found things worth while attempting if he was not sure they could be done.’

‘At the rear of thick lenses his eyes glinted excitingly, while the corners of his mouth twitched into the betrayal of a smile. Although laughter was never far away, it was somehow confined to his belly, which frequently heaved in silent inward mirth.’

‘His rich palate also inspired a unique chicken dish. After removing the parson’s noses from forty-six chickens they were thrown away. That is, the chickens were discarded. The parson’s noses were stewed all day in an earthenware casserole lined with one-quarter-inch thick ham with a sauce of liqueur brandy and apricots, then after adding mushrooms and a rich brown sauce were placed in a silver dish and served up hot to the cook. He found the dish rich beyond the dreams of Croesus.’

‘Cars played a big part in his life, perhaps because they provided an escape and a relaxation; for the same reason he avoided working with them, unwilling to commit himself to them any more than to anyone or anything else. He found them a great safety valve and burnt up the night roads at high speed to work off his frustrations. His cars were driven flat out until they needed major and expensive repair or were crashed, when they were discarded like a pair of old boots. He never sold a car or claimed insurance. At the Cooper school he got down to the last dozen out of thousands of would be racing drivers tested at Brands Hatch. Other interests, by contrast, were butterflies and seashells.’


‘Johnstone had a dread of growing old. He could see no future for himself as an old man, and consistently maintained that he had no intention of ever being one. His plan was to press on and find some way out in his fifties or when­ever he found life becoming intolerable. Probably he did not value his own life particularly highly at any time. He refused to pay National Health Insurance contributions on the ground that he would be gone before he could possibly benefit from them.’

‘He was an attractive and endearing person. Whenever there was a knock at the door of [his brother] Andrew’s Farnham home he and [Andrew’s wife] Diane both hoped it would be David rather than anyone else, and were as delighted to see him as they were frustrated by his refusal to base himself more permanently with them. At the same time, a visit by him probably meant the larder being drained of milk and whatever food was in it, with a good chance that Diane would also be lumbered with a stack of washing, and the house inevitably a shambles when he left. But they still hoped it would be him at the door.’

‘Andrew saw in him a combination of extreme non-conformism and an absence of ambition for the things in life which provide the driving force for most people: career, family, money and similar materialistic attributes.’

‘There was no real niche for him in the conventional world, but in the days of piracy or empire-snatching he would have been great.’.

More about John Hoare