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Sir Francis Chichester circumnavigates the globe

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, Royalty, Sea, Ships on Wednesday, 21 December 2011

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This edited article about sailing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 883 published on 16 December 1978.

Gypsy Moth IV, picture, image, illustration

Gypsy Moth IV with inset of Francis Chichester being knighted by the Queen, by John Keay

Beside the River Thames at Greenwich, near London, lies the Cutty Sark, a huge sailing clipper from the last century. In its shadow is a far smaller craft.

This is Gypsy Moth IV, a tiny vessel in which one man sailed around the world – the first solo circumnavigation of the globe with only one stop. An earlier round-the-world sailor, Joshua Slocum, made several stops during his circumnavigation in the 1890s.

The hero of this epic voyage was Sir Francis Chichester. He was already 64 years old when he sailed his sleek, white-hulled ketch out of Plymouth on 27th August, 1966, bound for Sydney, Australia. Ahead of him were over three months of hard sailing in vast, empty oceans.

Chichester had hoped to reach Sydney within 100 days – the average time taken by the sailing clippers – and at first all seemed well. Then came a succession of calm days, followed by fierce storms. Finally, his self-steering gear broke and he had to rig up a temporary replacement.

Amazingly, he was only seven days behind schedule when Gypsy Moth IV sailed in to a rapturous reception in Sydney. Now 65, the mariner was urged to give up.

But Chichester would have none of it. He had set out to sail round the world, and sail round the world he would. A day before leaving Sydney, he received a message that the Queen had conferred a knighthood on him.

Sir Francis’s route took him past the notorious Cape Horn with its green, towering seas. Five times Gypsy Moth IV’s cockpit was filled with water, yet the small ketch battled on and into the calmer waters of the South Atlantic.

When Gypsy Moth IV finally sailed into Plymouth Sound, on 28th May, 1967, Sir Francis Chichester had to have a naval escort to keep back the huge armada of ships welcoming him home.

The triumphant climax to the voyage came in July, when Sir Francis sailed up the River Thames and on to Greenwich. There, using Sir Francis Drake’s sword, the Queen dubbed him knight in the Grand Square of Greenwich’s Royal Naval College.

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