Sudden death of veteran solo sailor and skipper of Jester

Mike Richey, the veteran solo sailor, has

died at the age 92 after a heart attack at his home in Brighton.

Born in Eastbourne, on July 6, 1917, Mike

Richey was famous on the solo sailing circuit as the slowest and most

gentlemanly skipper of the engineless, junk-rigged Folkboat-style vessel,

Jester. Originally she was sailed in the first solo transatlantic race in 1960

by Blondie Hasler, from whom Mike bought her after the 1964 race. He sailed her

in six subsequent OSTARs (Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race) until he

was forced to abandon her in July 1988, when a rogue wave smashed a hatch,

leaving the boat open to the seas some 500 miles south-east of Halifax, Nova

Scotia. The boat was finally lost under tow. She was not insured and Mike was

in no position to replace her.

However, a trust was formed to build a

replica Jester. Colin Mudie drew up the plans and she was cold moulded, rather

than planked, and built by the Aldeburgh Boat Company just in time for the 1992


The 1996 OSTAR took rather longer than Mike

had hoped. He sailed back from America the following year, to be presented with

a world record certificate by the Guinness Book of Records for having crossed

the North Atlantic alone and arrived at the ripe old age of 80 years and 31


As a youth, Mike attended a coeducational

school in Switzerland, where he became fluent in French, and later the

Benedictine school at Downside Abbey in England. After graduation from Downside

in 1935, Mike had planned to enter a monastery. He spent a short time as a

potential postulant at the Trappist monastery on Caldey Island.

During his years at Downside, he became

interested in the work of sculptor Eric Gill and was apprenticed to him,

learning lettering and stone carving. For three years, Richey worked with Gill

and his group of talented young artists, some of whom would become lifelong


At the outbreak of the Second World War, in

1939, Mike, whose inclinations were pacifist, settled for minesweeping and got

an assignment in the Royal Naval Patrol Service on board the HMS Goodwill.

After the ship was blown up in 1940, he completed officer training and was

commissioned. He served at sea for almost the entire war on eight or nine

ships, primarily in the Western Approaches, including a spell with the Free

French Navy.

‘This is where my taste for

astro-navigation began, because there was nothing else to do. I got myself

appointed assistant navigator, and took stars morning, noon and night for about

a year,’ he recalled.

After leaving the navy in 1946, Mike was

approached by a committee formed to establish the (later, Royal) Institute of

Navigation. The following year, he founded the Journal of Navigation, and was

its editor until 1985.

After the war, Mike was drawn to ocean

racing and quickly earned a reputation for his skills as a navigator that

placed him in demand.

In 1979, he was awarded the Gold Medal of

the Royal Institute of Navigation and in 1986, was awarded the Seamanship Medal

of the Royal Cruising Club. In 1993 the Ocean Cruising Club gave him the Award

of Merit. A full report of Mike’s life will be published in the March issue of

Yachting Monthly.

Mike was last spotted by a Yachting Monthly

journalist at the start of the 2009 OSTAR in Plymouth, in company with another

veteran solo sailor, Val Howells, who at 83, is the only surviving member of

the first race in 1960. Mike protested to Howells, who was riding a Mobility

scooter, when he ran over Mike’s foot!


See link to Mike’s popular Yachting Monthly

column from the 1980s-1990s.