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Sir Francis Chichester

Dec 25, 2011 1 Comment by

After returning to England in 1929 to visit family, he took flying lessons at Brooklands, Surrey, and became a qualified pilot. He then took delivery of a de Havilland Gipsy Moth aircraft, which he intended to fly to New Zealand, hoping to break Bert Hinkler’s record solo flight back to Australia en route. Mechanical problems meant the record eluded him; however, he completed the trip in 41 days. The aircraft was then shipped to New Zealand. Finding that he was unable to carry enough fuel to cross the Tasman Sea directly, he had his Gipsy Moth fitted with floats, borrowed from the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, and went on to make the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea from East to West (New Zealand – Australia.) He was the first aviator to land an aircraft at Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island. Again, the trip was delayed: after his aircraft was severely damaged at Lord Howe, he had to rebuild it himself with the help of islanders.

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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.

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Francis Chichester and Gipsy Moth Sea-plane, Jervis Bay, N.S.W, 1931, having completed first ever solo crossing Tasman Sea from New Zealand.

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1967: Sir Francis Chichester sails home

Sir Francis Chichester has arrived in Plymouth tonight in his yacht, Gypsy Moth IV, after completing his epic single-handed voyage around the world.

He crossed the finishing line at 2058, nine months and one day after setting off from the historic port.

Sir Francis is the first man to race around the world solo with only one port of call, Sydney.

About 250,000 well-wishers cheered and sang, welcoming home the 65-year-old adventurer who has inspired the nation this past year.

Thousands of small boats accompanied Gypsy Moth into Plymouth Sound 119 days after it set sail from Sydney, Australia, the only stop in the mammoth journey.

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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,

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