Years ago my colleague, Director of Strategic Innovation, Maurice Conti, sailed his wife and children (before they started school) around the world. Maurice has stories of his adventures and the generous people they met during their travels. So when my neighbor, Tom Linney, offered to loan me his copy of Gipsy Moth Circles The World, I jumped at the opportunity. In my high school book report blogging tradition, I will attempt to summarize each chapter in a sentence.
Based on his extensive aviation and sailing experience, Francis Chichester secretly wanted a voyage around the world faster than any small boat had made before — lincluding circumnavigating The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.
There's nothing like starting the planning of a voyage with: a limp (slipped on wet deck skylight damaging his leg), lost architectural drawings, poor plumbing (lavatory backs up into the sink when boat keels), a wife/publicist with a damaged eye (hit when curtain pulling cord swung back), a boat that is too heavy, and an unexpected 50% cost overrun.
The "off" at last
Though the voyage started on a sunny day in 1966, Francis soon encountered squalls, gale force winds, an inability to sleep due to the pain in his leg, a sunken sail stuck to the keel (reeled back aboard shortly thereafter), moldy bread (inadvertently burned while rebaking), a malfunctioning self-steering device (required for navigation while sleeping), and flying fish (consumed for breakfast).
My sixty-fifth birthday party
Although alone and miles out to sea, Francis celebrated his 65th birthday with a champagne cocktail and tuxedo (sans bow tie which had been left behind) — recognizing that putting up the best performance one can provides satisfaction in living.
Whistling for wind and rain
A shortage of water (rain collected by the sail was tainted by salty over spray from the sea) and electricity (batteries not charging) were overcome by modification to the water collection process and tightening of the alternator belt — solutions embodied with an attitude of whistling while one works.
The Roaring Forties
The 40-foot waves at 40 degrees latitude (where wind in the sails sounds like a roar) necessitated repairs to a malfunctioning self-steering mechanism and broken tooth (filed down after two failed attempts at cementing it back on with a self-dentistry kit).
When the metal plates of the self-steering mechanism sheered in two, Francis ingeniously rigged the sails so ropes would provide tension on the tiller to account for any changes in direction of the wind.
After 106 days, 20.5 hours of travel, the Gipsy Moth IV pulled into Sydney Harbor — the sole port of call for the entire journey.
Though the stopover in Sydney allowed for boat modifications (e.g., extension to the keel and complete rebuilding of the self steering mechanism), reporters, experienced sailors, and even sponsors urged Francis to end his journey and not brave the treacherous waters that lie ahead.
Capsize in the Tasman Sea
Hit by a tidal wave, the boat dipped 65 degrees below the horizon, taking on water and casting everything about, but then righting itself, where after Francis emptied the bilge using a hand pump.
"I have been damned lucky"
Francis spent the next few weeks repacking everything that was strewn about and deduced that the self steering's inability to hold the boat at the proper heading was due to the shape of the hull — and adjusted his headings to account for that.
As the gales between those two Thursdays carried the Gipsy Moth IV a distance of 1,115 miles, Franics celebrated his 30th anniversary alone — realizing that life is such a slender thread, and the things most valuable in life, one often disregards, are people.
To The Horn
Francis was excited as the Gipsy Moth IV closed in on the tip of South America amid the waters of the turbulent Southern Sea where there is no land to break its force as the water sweeps round and round the spinning globe.
Rounding Cape Horn
With hands numb from the freezing cold, Francis bailed out the cockpit (huge waves lapped over the deck) ten to fifteen times as Gipsy Moth IV rounded Cape Horn sometimes in winds of up to 100 mph.
Into the broad Atlantic
Francis celebrated his wife's birthday by completing his circumnavigation of the globe (east-west direction) with the remainder of the trip being the northern trip back to Plymouth, England where the voyage began.
Trade Winds and Doldrums
Francis was able to make decent progress despite the calm winds and limited dexterity due to a painful elbow from a fall earlier in the voyage.
A pleasant sail at last!
The Gipsy Moth IV completed her passage home of 15,517 miles (distance around the globe) in 119 days with an average speed of 130 miles per day with a voyage of 29,630 miles (accounting for north/south travels around continents) over a 226 day (one 107 day layover in Sydney) period.
In recognition of his accomplishment as well as his spirit of a man who made his dreams come true, Francis Chichester was knighted by the Queen using the very sword given by Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Francis Drake after his first circumnavigation of the globe 400 years earlier.
A Wife's Part in High Adventure
Francis' wife, Sheila, never worried about her husband because prayer provides an outpouring of strength enabling humans to realize that anything and everything are possible.
Certainly Sir Francis Chichester's story is compelling due to his technical achievements:
- fastest voyage by a small vessel,
- longest passage without a port of call, and
- twice the distance of previous longest passage by a singlehander.
In addition to that, his story is compelling because of his sheer will. Sailing solo is a matter of skill. On a boat with a full crew, the crew does the work in shifts. In contrast, navigating alone relies on ingenuity and determination. Regardless of life's pursuits, we would all do well to apply this same mentality.
Imaginary sailing is alive in the lab.