2017 is the 50th Anniversary of Sir Francis Chichester’s Solo Circumnavigation on Gipsy Moth IV, a remarkable feat for a 65 year old man with ill health. His voyage achieved some world firsts and broke several records, capturing the imagination of a generation of potential sailors in doing so. In 1968 Gipsy Moth IV went on display at Greenwich, where she remained until 2004 when a campaign was launched to restore her.
When Chichester arrived home, he was not exactly complimentary about the 53ft ketch saying: “Now that I have finished, I don’t know what will become of Gipsy Moth IV………..It would be better if about a third were sawn off. The boat was too big for me. Gipsy Moth IV has no sentimental value for me at all. She is cantankerous and difficult and needs a crew of three – a man to navigate, and elephant to move the tiller and a 3′ 6″ chimpanzee with arms 8′ long to get about below and work some of the gear”.
When the Gipsy Moth Trust announced the “Gipsy Moth Circles Britain” sail to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, it was brought to my attention by a friend who knows me only too well – I needed all of….maybe 30 seconds to think about signing up! There were several legs to choose from, but being an East Coast girl, I couldn’t resist the Hull to London option. A cantankerous and difficult boat to match a cantankerous and difficult woman perhaps?
So on Sunday 2nd July I found myself heading to Hull to pick up the key to the mooring from skipper Ricky. It’s an odd feeling approaching a piece of maritime history. A boat I’ve read and heard so much about and there I was, sitting on the foredeck alone in the sunshine, completely in charge of what is almost a floating museum.
As a yacht, she was nothing like anything I’d sailed before; I was completely mystified as to why on earth there were winches on the mast. Even worse to note was that to aid identification, all the lines were the same colour.
She is however, a most beautiful yacht. The moment you step aboard you know that she’s special, it’s quite humbling – you can’t avoid thinking about where she’s been and what’s she done, with only one man onboard.
Ricky was off to stay in a hotel for a night so myself and fellow crew member David had Gipsy all to ourselves for the night. We were joined for the evening by my Clipper “Team Andy” Leg twin Julie, who for some reason also seemed to enjoy sitting on the foredeck of Gipsy Moth in the sun, posing while passers by continually asked the question “is that the real Gipsy Moth then?”
Points to Note –
Yes. It is the real Gipsy Moth.
No. She is no longer on display at Greenwich.
Yes. She does sail.
No. We’re not doing tours, it’s not our boat.
David and I stayed up late sitting on deck chatting about Chichester, what type of man he must have been, what motivated him and what our motivations were for being there. It was a beautiful evening and the theme of beautiful weather was to continue for us all that week.
Monday morning we were pleased to note that Hull Marina has the best showers either of us have ever seen at a marina and were even more pleased to note the little cafe opposite did amazing breakfasts, including a vegetarian option. Fellow crew members Allan & Jason joined us in the morning, by lunchtime the four of us had been joined by Ricky and mate Kirstie. We watched HMS Pickle coming in, filled up at the fuel pontoon and were ready to depart before 3pm.
It took a while for us to notice all the modern navigation and electronics on board – they’re all hidden underneath a board with the originals on them!
Thankfully Ricky explained which winch was for which halyard and before long having winches on the mast seemed perfectly normal. It was quite a novelty to hank on sails that you could carry with one hand, they’re a little smaller and lighter than Clipper sails. It wasn’t until later when they were hoisted that we discovered that we’d hanked on the jib the wrong way round. <cough> Oops.
We sorted out watches and I quite deliberately chose the sunrise & sunset watches with Allan. Ricky & Kirstie split watches so they both had time with each watch.
So apologies to David & Jason, who never actually saw a sunrise or sunset outside of the photos I helpfully posted on Facebook for them!
Gipsy is quite a narrow beamed yacht, so under motor she doesn’t feel all that stable, which came as somewhat of a surprise to someone used to 70ft racing yachts. We hadn’t been out of the lock very long before I started to wonder if I hadn’t made somewhat of a mistake by wanting to do this trip if we were going to spend the whole time rolling about.
However, once the sails are up, Gipsy is completely different. She was built for speed, as Chichester originally wanted to beat the wool and tea Clipper ship times. Once the sails are powered up, that becomes immediately more obvious and she balances well unless you happen to be the required elephant on the tiller!
My Clipper mate Mike had sailed Gipsy on a previous leg and when asked how she sailed, would simply say that it gave him new found respect for Chichester and when I sailed her, I would know what he meant. It didn’t take long to know exactly what he meant! It’s all in being the elephant – when her sails are fully powered up, the tiller is really heavy. By that I mean that unless you persuade the skipper to let the mizzen out, you’ll be using your full bodyweight to move it! A good method is to put the tiller between your legs and use your thighs to move it, which caused no end of hilarity! It also bruises your thighs quite well after a while!
As we came across the Wash, Allan and I rested for a couple of hours before taking the first sunset watch. We were due off watch at 11pm, however I stayed up longer so I could enjoy tracking our progress past very familiar places. I eventually left the helm and went off watch when we were 10 miles from Wells next the Sea. When I came back on watch, we were passing Cromer.
The next couple of days passed in a blur of 4 hour watches. Sometimes I stayed on watch for an extra hour as I wanted to make the most of this special experience. Allan and I would each helm for an hour and then swop over. It’s amazing how quickly you fall into a watch system and get to know when your hour is up. In my case, you could tell when I was overdue to be off watch as I’d lose the ability to steer a straight course!
The weather was glorious all the time, although it was quite cold on night watch at times. The wind was variable and there were large sections where we had to motor sail, but we weren’t bothered. Everyone was just very content to be there. Ricky and Kirstie looked after us very well and pretty much left us to get on with it, only requesting course changes when required, changing the trim occasionally and most importantly – cooking all of our meals! Ricky is an absolute god in the galley! We were especially grateful for his legendary bacon rolls at 4.30am!
Jason and I were hot bunking in the forepeak berth. Every time I came off night watch I found the little light above the bunk on, the pillow plumped up and my sleeping bag nicely laid out. Which made up for the occasion he left me locked in there after using the heads while I was off watch!
Dawn broke as we came past Canvey Island and we watched the sunrise as we came past the docks at London Gateway. Coming up the Thames was quite special, no-one slept on the last watch change. We were all very conscious that we were coming to the end of our journey and didn’t want to waste any time sleeping.
It was amazing to come past Greenwich with the sails up, the place where Gipsy had spent so many years before being restored. We spent some time moored on a buoy by Tower Bridge and before we knew it, we were on the pontoon at St Kat’s and heading to the Dicken’s Inn to celebrate an incredible epic journey.
There are only so many times I can use words such as ‘incredible’ and ‘amazing’ before they start to sound trite, but I had a truly wonderful time and was sad to leave. Chichester may not have held her in very high regard, but she’s an easy boat to love. With all four sails up and a good wind, she clips along fast and is a joy to sail. I’d certainly be interested in racing her at some point in the future. Helming a piece of maritime history round my beloved North Norfolk coast was quite an experience in itself. She’s a very special boat and I’d say she knows it. I’d highly recommend going to look round her if you get the chance and most definitely take any opportunity you can to sail her, you won’t regret it.
With huge thanks to the Gipsy Moth Trust for giving us this opportunity, to Ricky our fabulous skipper and chef, to Kirstie our wonderful Mate who will one day make an amazing Clipper skipper, to Watch Mate Allan and to David & Jason, who sacrificed their sunrises and sunsets to me and my iPhone camera.