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13 November 2014

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You are in: Devon > History > Famous Devonians > Sailing into the record books

Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Chichester

Sailing into the record books

Devon adventurer Sir Francis Chichester was knighted for his sailing and flying exploits.

Sir Francis Chichester (1901-1972) carried Devon's historic tradition of producing explorers and adventurers into the 20th century.

Like Drake, Raleigh and Scott before him, Chichester had a sense of daring which made him one of Britain's biggest adventure heroes of the last century.

He was born in Barnstaple on 17 September 1901, and he grew to love sailing and flying.

In 1929, he made the second solo flight to Australia. Two years later, he became the first person to fly solo across the Tasman Sea from east to west in his Gypsy Moth aeroplane, which was fitted with floats.

He had a near fatal crash in Japan later that year when the plane he was flying hit a cable.

During WW2, he wrote navigation instruction manuals for the Air Ministry and he helped teach British pilots how to fly at low level without navigation maps.

He then turned his attention to single-handed sailing - with Gipsy Moth II, and then Gipsy Moth III.

In 1958, he was diagnosed with a lung disease and was given just six months to live.

He was advised to have one lung removed - but he refused, and he was nursed back to health by his wife, Sheila.

Gipsy Moth IV

Gipsy Moth IV in 1967

Two years later, in 1960, he was the first winner of the inaugural Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Yacht Race, in Gipsy Moth III. The crossing took 40 days - 16 days faster than the previous record.

Then came his biggest test - and his greatest achievement. In his new 53ft yacht, Gipsy Moth IV, Chichester set sail from Plymouth on 27 August 1966 to embark on an attempt to circumnavigate the globe - solo.

After rounding Cape Horn in huge waves, he said: "Wild horses could not drag me down to Cape Horn and that sinister Southern Ocean again in a small boat.

"There is something nightmarish about deep breaking seas and screaming winds. I had a feeling of helplessness before the power of the waves came rolling down on top of me."

Stopping just once, in Sydney, Australia, Chichester made it back into Plymouth nine months and one day later, on 28 May 1967.

His round voyage of 28,500 miles took 274 days, with 226 days sailing time. It captured the imagination of the British public and around 250,000 people - some in small boats - cheered him as he sailed into Plymouth to a hero's welcome.

On his arrival he said: "What I would like after four months of my own cooking is the best dinner from the best chef in the best surroundings and in the best company."

Chichester set several records during the voyage.

The 15,517 miles from Australia to Plymouth via Cape Horn was the longest passage made by a small yacht without a port of call.

It was the fastest circumnavigation by a small yacht, and it was the first true circumnavigation via the three Capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn, making only one stop.

Chichester was knighted by the Queen in 1967 - and she used the same sword that Queen Elizabeth I used to knight Sir Francis Drake.

Chichester died in 1972, at the age of 71.

His ketch Gipsy Moth IV was kept in dry dock in Greenwich. She was restored in time for a 40th anniversary circumnavigation in 2006-2007, when she again returned to Plymouth to a huge welcome from thousands of people.

last updated: 20/04/2009 at 16:15
created: 28/01/2008

You are in: Devon > History > Famous Devonians > Sailing into the record books

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