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
‘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
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.