Giles Chichester's speech, given on the eve of Gipsy Moth's second circumnavigation, offered a fascinating glimpse of Sir Francis's life. Read it here…
This is a rather sentimental occasion for me because, by my count, it is the 10th eve of departure of a Gipsy Moth from Plymouth that I have attended.
Forgive me if I list them so as to establish my credentials for speaking here this evening.
The first time was in 1960 on the eve of the first ever single-handed transatlantic race when I well remember attending a particularly merry dinner at Pedro’s Restaurant in the Octagon and afterwards following my father and Mike Richey as these two great navigators weaved their way across the Hoe pretending to make observations of the moon or possibly street lamps while obviously enjoying the spirit of the occasion. That was Gipsy Moth III and she and my father won that solo race.
Then in 1962 my father was back with a re-rigged Gipsy Moth III to challenge his own record of 40 days from Plymouth to New York. As I recall, it was an altogether quieter and more sober eve of departure event.
Again in 1964 my father entered the second single-handed race in Gipsy Moth III which was from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island. This time he came second.
The fourth departure was in 1966 in Gipsy Moth IV when he set out on his solo circumnavigation into the relatively uncharted waters of a single-hander sailing around the world at speed with only one stop and through two antipodal points so as to achieve a true circumnavigation which the navigator in my father regarded as being very important.
And finally the fifth departure was in Gipsy Moth V in 1970 when my father, not content with the achievement of the solo circumnavigation in Gipsy Moth IV, set out to establish a speed record for single-handers between two identifiable positions namely Guinea Bissau in West Africa and the port of San Juan Del Naute in Nicaragua – a distance of 4,000 miles along a great circle route.
Now all of these departures on lone long distance blue water voyages were adventures which had one or other of the twin themes which strongly motivated my father’s sailing, namely a desire to be first or a desire to be fastest. And if you will indulge me, I will just list the other Gipsy Moth departures which culminate in Gipsy Moth IV tomorrow.
The first for me was in 1977 when I took Gipsy Moth V in a race to the Azores. The next year in 1978, we departed on what was then called the Round Britain race also in Gipsy Moth V – the ‘we’ was Mike Richey and myself.
We had an interesting arrangement. The deal was that Mike would navigate and cook and I would sail the boat. The outcome of which was that we made very slow progress because I was sea sick on every leg but we fed well and we arrived in the right place and later that year, I set off in Gipsy Moth V for the Canaries and the West Indies and my first experience of trade wind sailing which I regard as the best sailing in the world.
And finally I set out from Plymouth in 1981 on the two-handed race across the Atlantic with a great friend of mine, Brian Gladstone, as crew. And this departure was closely linked in my mind with our conspicuous consumption of what I call Charlie Hotel because Charles Heidsieck were sponsoring the race and had laid on a supply of seemingly endless champagne in the Barbican and I seem to recall that Sue Davis was acting as publicist for this race, and it’s good to see her here this evening, and I can only say that I remember leaving Plymouth in the normal condition that one seems to on these occasions; namely rather hung over.
So that makes nine departures from Plymouth and tomorrow Gipsy Moth IV goes off on the tenth, going on her second circumnavigation along a very different route.
Can I say that it gives me great pleasure that the plight of Gipsy Moth IV when she was in dry dock in Greenwich and gradually deteriorating combined with a sense of respect for and admiration of my father and his achievements in her moved Paul Gelder and Yachting Monthly to launch this splendid project of renewing and refitting her for a second blue water adventure.
For me the drive and enthusiasm and commitment displayed by David Green and his UK Sailing Academy team has been truly impressive. They’ve carried forward the rescue and renovation and refit of Gipsy Moth IV in a most remarkable fashion and I think that the levels of energy and the contributions from all involved, whether in time or in effort or cash or kind on the part of everyone, has been truly outstanding.
My father I’m sure would be most flattered that his achievements are being celebrated anew in this way and my mother, who was rather concerned later in life that the memory of my father might fade, would be very happy that all effort has gone into bringing the boat, the man and the achievement before new generations.
When reflecting on what to say tonight, I thought about what the fortunate participants in this adventure may derive from their experience to come and so drawing on my own experiences here are a few thoughts.
My father’s great interest was navigation. The art of knowing where you are, where you are going and how to find your way. It sounds easy and it’s really satisfying when you do it for yourself over long distances out of sight of land. I can well remember my sense of satisfaction on reaching the end of my own first transatlantic crossing as master and navigator; when I was able to say in an hour and a half we should see a light over there and more or less to time up popped the light. Very reassuring. Especially as I had not told the crew that I hadn’t navigated across an ocean before!
Then you have to learn self-sufficiency. You have to learn about relying on your own resources. There’s no chance of nipping out to the corner shop or Tesco Metro or wherever if you’ve forgotten something. You’re on your own and you’ve got to make do with what you have on board. You have to learn and practice team spirit and comradeship. Of course for single-handers, this is pretty easy but for everyone else, it’s more of a challenge!
Being in a small confined space at sea is a testing environment in all sorts of ways. I found that I developed a huge respect for the sea and for the forces of nature in the maritime environment. Being a bit in awe, a bit nervous, makes you much more careful. I hope they will find a measure of the satisfaction and pleasure I enjoyed of the self-contained life at sea. In some ways arriving at the end of the voyage is a bitter sweet moment because it signals that the adventure is over.
I found that having the time and space to contemplate life, loves and liberty or whatever your train of thought in the long hours of the night watch was a great joy and bonus. Somehow the trivia of life melt away and one can see the essentials, the really important things, very clearly. I certainly took two of the most important decisions in my life at sea and I can tell you that one was to ask ‘her in doors’ sitting here, Virginia, to marry me. The challenge is to remember those decisions taken in clarity of thought at sea once you get back to terra firma.
Trade wind sailing, which is what Gipsy Moth IV will be mainly doing, is the best sailing in the world in my experience. Blue skies; a following wind; porpoises in the bow wave; flying fish which have a habit of landing very conveniently on the deck around breakfast time.
I have no direct interest in that myself being a vegetarian but I am told they are very tasty and then at night the wonderful sights of the stars and the phosphorescence of the wake of the boat when you are out in a pretty well light- pollution free setting, they all make up a magical experience in my view. Of course, it can be nasty, wet and windy too, occasionally.
Which leads me to the important issue of seasickness. There are a few people who do not suffer seasickness and I have to say their air of superiority and disdain for the rest of us who do suffer is frankly rather insensitive. I was tempted to say nauseating but I thought that might be over-egging the point!
I have always suffered seasickness but long passages have showed me how to get over it and to enjoy life at sea. The secret is patience plus keeping warm, dry and hydrated and when you do emerge from the misery you feel more alive, more in tune with nature than ever and I think it is worth a little suffering on the way to get that feeling.
The other train of thought I had about this project was how much has changed since my father’s day forty years ago more or less. Satellite navigation has made astronavigation by sextant and sight tables obsolete, maybe.
Radio communications are a quantum leap better including the availability of weather charts by fax and advances in equipment, generally too many to mention, have made a big difference and then we have far greater knowledge and experience of the many who have sailed these routes during the second half of the C20.
Before too many years pass me by I hope to discover all of this for myself once again but I know that my father would have been fascinated by the advances from what was state of the art forty years ago.
In closing, letting me say that I am delighted that two young people from the Sir Francis Chichester Trust, which was set up here in Devon to give young people from difficult or disadvantaged backgrounds an experience with outward bound to develop their characters and sense of self; that two young people from the Trust, nominated by the Trust, will have a chance to sail on one of the legs of this voyage and I think that will be a life enhancing or life changing experience for them.
And it seems to me that it is a fine thing that the Gipsy Moth IV Project, under the direction of David Green and UKSA, should bring the boat together with the Trust and my father’s achievement and an opportunity for young people to have what I hope will be an unforgettable experience.
I wish everyone involved much satisfaction and pleasure. Go for it!