CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Sir Francis Chichester: the great voyage

PUBLISHED: 10:05 10 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:21 10 April 2018

Giles Chichester reflects on his father Sir Francis Chichester's achievement

Giles Chichester reflects on his father Sir Francis Chichester's achievement


Fifty years ago Sir Francis Chichester sailed from Devon on voyage that would make him famous, as Chrissy Harris reports

PLYMOUTH has been the starting point for many a great adventure over the centuries. And they don’t come much more epic than Sir Francis Chichester’s famous voyage. Fifty years ago this month, the master navigator set sail from the city’s West Hoe Pier aboard the Gipsy Moth IV for a round the world trip that would secure him a place in the record books.Barnstaple-born Sir Francis, then aged 64, became the first person to sail single-handedly around the world, west to east, in the fastest possible time. He took 226 days to travel 28,500 miles and, incredibly, made just one stop in Sydney before heading back to Plymouth to a hero’s welcome.

Standing on the same steps from which his father climbed aboard the Gipsy Moth IV on 27 August 1966, Sir Francis Chichester’s son Giles tells Devon Life about that day.

“I can remember it well. I went out and saw him off,” says Giles, a former Conservative politician and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for South West England. “My mother and I were in a smaller boat and we followed him out a little way.”

How did you feel?

“Slightly queasy!” says Giles. “I think my father did too, poor fellow. Well, when you go off on these big trips, there’s a tremendous rush to get everything finished and ready to go – plus there are a few parties, of course. All of which adds up to feeling a little, well, delicate. If you suffer from seasickness, as all of us did - including my father - then it hits you at the beginning.”

The sheer scale of the challenge that lay ahead must have been weighing on everyone’s mind.

But Giles says he knew his father - who by this stage in his life had already single-handedly sailed the Atlantic three times and attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a plane - was more than up to the job.

“I understood the enormity of what he was doing but being inside of the operation, I had complete confidence in him,” says Giles. “He was a very competent fellow, a very fine navigator. I didn’t go along with the people who said: ‘Oh he shouldn’t risk it’ and there were lots of people who were saying that he was an old man. I mean, he was just short of his 65th birthday when he left and that was considered quite old 50 years ago.”

Sir Francis Chichester entering Plymouth Sound at the end of his adventure in 1967 © Plymouth City CouncilSir Francis Chichester entering Plymouth Sound at the end of his adventure in 1967 © Plymouth City Council

What is even more remarkable, is that just a few years before he set off on his record-breaking trip, Sir Francis had been diagnosed with what was thought at the time to have been lung cancer.

“I grew up in my teens with him battling this very serious illness,” says Giles. “I just remember terrible times travelling from our home in London to the Royal Brompton Hospital and this poor figure of a man... Anyway, he survived – more than survived. And in fact, he thought the first single-handed race he did across the Atlantic (in 1960) was going to be a sort of convalescence. Well, it’s not everyone’s idea of convalescence, but that was him.”

Giles has organised a series of events in Plymouth this month to honour his father’s departure on his round-the-world adventure

As well as a dinner and a talk at Waterstones book shop, the highlight on 27 August will be a re-enactment at West Hoe Pier, featuring the actual Gipsy Moth IV, a 54-foot ketch sailing boat.

There is a huge banner on Plymouth Hoe’s Front Garden to mark the start of Chichester’s historic trip.

Sir Francis Chichester at Plymouth Guildhall in 1967 celebrating his record-breaking voyageSir Francis Chichester at Plymouth Guildhall in 1967 celebrating his record-breaking voyage

In addition, there will also be a formal unveiling of a replacement bronze plaque, set in the wall next to the Waterfront pub on West Hoe. The original commemoration was swept away in storms two years ago.

The celebrations promise to be a fitting tribute to a Devon-born man who achieved so much in his lifetime.

“I’m very much looking forward to it,” says Giles. “Plymouth is a place where many people have set forth on adventures, whether it was the Mayflower, or Sir Francis Drake.

“It’s a stepping off point. The main idea this month is to remind people of this great adventure by a Devonian that started and finished here.”

Nicola Moyle, head of Plymouth City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service, agrees it was a remarkable accomplishment.

“It’s one that the sport of sailing, the Chichester family and the city of Plymouth should be rightly proud of.”


A plaque marking Sir Francis Chichester's achievementA plaque marking Sir Francis Chichester's achievement

A spirit of adventure

Born in Barnstaple on 17 September 1901, Francis Chichester 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 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 was nursed back to health by his wife, Sheila.

Two years later, in 1960, he was the first winner of the inaugural Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Yacht Race, in Gipsy Moth III.

Then came 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.

Throughout his journey, Chichester sent back reports twice a week and many people, including hundreds of local schoolchildren – were captivated by the trip.

Around 250,000 people - some in small boats - cheered him as he sailed into Plymouth.

He 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.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Friday, December 7, 2018

Devon Life received this heartfelt letter from Mr Michael Thompson, of Torbay, which is felt particularly poignant to share with our website audience at this time of year

Read more
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Bursting with festive inspiration, KATE WILLIAMS seeks out the best presents for a perfect Devon Christmas

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon has had more than its fair share of high achievers over the years but how well do you know our county’s singers, authors, sportspeople, explorers and TV personalities? This is an edited version of a quiz compiled by MARGARET BRECKNELL in the December 2018 issue of Devon Life

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

PHILIP DALLING recalls two Exmoor legends who shared a deep love of the moor and its natural resources, and gained national fame through the media

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the month when we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, STEVE ROBERTS highlights the terrible cost in human lives it inflicted on the county of Devon

Read more
Friday, November 16, 2018

Actor Tom Burke talks to JUDI SPIERS about his production of Don Carlos staged by his own theatre company Ara, in association with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to England Women’s Cricket Captain, Heather Knight

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

There is more to Georgia Toffolo than an award-winning TV show, as HOLLY EELLS discovers

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Striving to be the best in the world, homegrown Devon professional squash player Lyell Fuller is seeking sponsorship to help reach his goal. KATE WILLAMS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tavistock Rugby Club in Devon is celebrating after being awarded a grant of £2,500 to fund private showers for referees at their Sandy Park ground, as part of rural energy provider Calor’s annual funding scheme

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devon’s Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, also known as The Black Farmer, tells KATE WILLIAMS about his new book, Jeopardy, encouraging the embracing of risk to enrich life

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CAROLYN SEAGER reveals how long after her mother’s death she discovered her amazing career in the service of her country

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An author known for her novels depicting life on the Channel Islands is nonetheless happiest writing from home here in Devon

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search