Sir Francis Chichester’s circumnavigation: Memories from Buckler’s Hard

Sir Francis' son Giles is delighted to see his father's boatback at Buckler's Hard (Photo by Jason A

Sir Francis' son Giles is delighted to see his father's boatback at Buckler's Hard (Photo by Jason Allen) - Credit: Archant

Gipsy Moth IV returned to Buckler’s Hard for the 50th anniversary of Sir Francis Chichester setting sail to become the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe. Claire Pitcher met those who remember the event half a century ago

Bill Grindey was harbour master when Gipsy Moth IV set sail (Photo by Jason Allen)

Bill Grindey was harbour master when Gipsy Moth IV set sail (Photo by Jason Allen) - Credit: Archant

Sir Francis Chichester was 65 years of age the day he sailed from Buckler’s Hard on August 12th 1966. Many thought it was madness for a gentleman of such an age to undertake the challenge. When asked why he was doing it, he simply answered: “Because it intensifies life”.

Following trials on the Solent Sir Francis left Plymouth on August 27th. After 226 days at sea, with only one stop in Sydney, the 65-year-old sailor and former aviator finally returned to Buckler’s Hard on September 17th the following year. He had travelled a staggering 29,630 miles in the 54ft ketch.

Sir Francis managed to set a number of world firsts and records during his successful voyage. He was the first person to sail solo around the earth and the fastest circumnavigator with his record of nine months and one day, which was almost twice as fast as the previous record. Weeks after his circumnavigation, Sir Francis was knighted for “individual achievement and sustained endeavour in the navigation and seamanship of small craft”. For the ceremony, the Queen used the sword that had been used by her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, to knight the adventurer Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to complete a circumnavigation with his crew. Sir Francis was also later honoured on a postage stamp, which showed him aboard Gipsy Moth IV… and he still holds a special place in maritime history. Here are the recollections of those who were at Buckler’s Hard as he bid farewell to Hampshire…

David Martin, shopkeeper’s son

“Sir Francis’ son Giles was watching the World Cup downstairs in my mother’s flat. That’s what I remember most on the day that Gipsy Moth set sail. Mum (Rhoda Martin) used to sort the provisions on Sir Francis’s other trips as well, like his transatlantic voyages. She used to preserve his eggs and de-eye his potatoes.”

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In a transcript of an interview with Mrs Martin in 1991, she said: “He took tinned cake and tinned marmalade and tinned jams. I used to have to get these especially for him. And fruit… oranges and grapefruit he was very fond of and apples… only a limited quantity of those because they only keep so long.”

According to the provisions list he took 156 eggs and 30lbs of potatoes on the outward journey so this was no easy task for Mrs Martin at the time.

Harbour Master Bill Grindey

“I was harbour master for 41-and-a-half years here on the Beaulieu River. I used to shadow Francis on his working up trials on the Solent. We used to ferry the different contractors down, as well as equipment and photographers keen to picture him before setting off on his journey.

“He slipped away fairly quietly from Buckler’s Hard, with just the Montagu family, ourselves and a few members of the public watching. Once he’d set off from Plymouth, we had to watch the press for updates on his progress. Lady Chichester would also ring up quite often to let us know how he was doing.

“I went to Plymouth with the Montagus for his arrival back in the UK. We went out to meet him with a great armada of vessels. I remember we came in on the flood tide and there were thousands of people on the Plymouth Hoe.

“There’s been a lot of blood sweat and tears to get Gipsy Moth IV to the condition we see her in today. She looks beautiful, Sir Francis would be very proud of her.”

Trustees Rob Thompson & Eileen Skinner

“We bought Gipsy Moth IV in 2010,” recalls Rob. “She was advertised in the Sunday Times. We were able to buy her, but thought ‘what shall we do with her?’ All the advice was that we should keep her sailing. We donated her to the Gipsy Moth Trust, who today has the responsibility of funding and maintaining her.

“One of our aims is to let the public go onboard and sail her, as she is available to charter. We want to see that she is available for future generations to enjoy.”

“We also have to make sure the boat is never at risk of falling into disrepair again, so we set up Friends of Gipsy Moth. We need 1,000 people to pay £25 a year to help for maintenance and running costs.”

Visit the website to get involved

Giles Chichester

“The plan for the boat started out in the autumn of 1964. It had the working title of ‘New York Express’. As I recall, my father said: “Well I’ve been across the Atlantic three times on my own. What about going round the world?’

“He was determined to follow the traditional clippers route out to Australia via Cape of Good Hope and back via Cape Horn. He set about planning and buying his charts then having the boat built. The working up was done at Buckler’s Hard. It was a very different place back then.

“The big feature was that, unlike previous long trips when the hardy mariners set off and seemed to disappear for weeks and months, my father needed to send stories back to the UK as he was getting funding from the national papers. He had to send a story twice a week. He had onboard a Marconi Kestrel, which was considered to be a great leap forward in marine telephony for very small vessels. His reports gave a continuity of the adventure that built up interest in it. People Gipsy Moth is here at Buckler’s Hard again and great that everyone is remembering my father’s feat. I also think it’s remarkable what the Trust are doing, keeping her going. They’re trying to inspire young people with the recollection of what my father achieved. I congratulate them, as I understand she’s a bit of a labour of love. I live in hope that she might find homeport back in Beaulieu one day.”

Ralph Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 4th Baron Montagu of Beaulieu

“I was only five at the time Sir Francis left. My nanny in the nursery talked about him as news came through. I particularly recall the celebrations on his return. It was quite the do. My father had a full orchestra playing. He built a big pontoon on the river and set off fireworks.

“To have had the boat here for the 50th anniversary has been great. Plus everyone’s getting older, so we need to take these opportunities while we can.”

Visit the museum

For the full facts and artefacts from the dramatic Gipsy Moth IV voyage story – which included several floodings, a capsizing and a broken self-steering mechanism – visit the special display in the Maritime Museum at Buckler’s Hard. The museum is open from 10am to 5pm daily as part of general admission to the Buckler’s Hard attraction. For more information see or call 01590 616203.