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Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Chichester (September 17, 1901 – August 26, 1972), aviator and sailor, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for becoming the first person to sail single-handed around the world by the clipper route, and the fastest circumnavigator, in nine months and one day overall.

He was born in Barnstaple, Devon, England and suffered a miserable childhood as the myopic second son of an unloving Anglican clergyman.[1] Young Francis was sent to a residential boarding school at the age of 6, and attended Marlborough College as an adolescent during the first World War. At age 18, emigrated to New Zealand, where in ten years he built up a prosperous business in forestry, mining and property development, only to suffer severe losses in the Great Depression.



Sea and Sky

After becoming a pilot, he returned to England in 1929 to visit family and take 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. Finding that he was unable to carry enough fuel to cross the Tasman Sea directly, he had his Gipsy Moth fitted with floats, and went on to make the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea from East to West and 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, he had to rebuild it himself with the help of islanders. Though the concept of "off-course navigation" (In off-course navigation you don't correct for wind drift. You fly the magnetic course you plotted on the map for the length of time you calculated, and then you know where to look - upwind) is probably as old as navigation, Chichester was the first to utilize it in a methodical manner in an aircraft. The technique allowed him to find tiny islands in the Pacific without any aids, apart from a compass and an estimate of the distance flown. He was awarded the inaugural Amy Johnson Memorial Trophy for this trip.

Chichester then decided to circumnavigate the world solo. Borrowing a pair of floats from the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, he made it to Japan; but, on take-off from Katsuura Harbour Wakayama, he collided with an overhead cable, sustaining serious injuries. Chichester enlisted at the outbreak of World War II, serving in the United Kingdom as a navigation expert. He wrote the navigation manual that allowed the pilots of single-handed fighter aircraft to navigate across Europe and back using kneeboard navigation similar to that which he used in the Pacific. At the end of the war, he stayed in the United Kingdom. He purchased 15,000 surplus Air Ministry maps, initially pasting them on boards and making jigsaw puzzles out of them; and later founded a successful map-making company.

In 1958, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. (This may have been a mis-diagnosis; Dr. David Lewis, a London physician who competed against Chichester in the first solo trans-Atlantic race, reviewed the case and called Chichester's abnormality a "lung abscess."[2]) His wife-to-be Sheila put him on a strict vegetarian diet (now considered to be a macrobiotic diet) and his cancer went into remission.

In 1960, he entered and won the first single-handed transatlantic yacht race, which he had co-founded, in the yacht Gipsy Moth III. He came second in the second race four years later. On August 27, 1966 he sailed his ketch Gipsy Moth IV from Plymouth, England and returned there after 226 days of sailing on 28 May 1967, having circumnavigated the globe, with one stop (in Sydney, Australia). By doing so, he became the first person to achieve a true circumnavigation of the world solo from West to East via the great capes. The voyage was also a race against the clock as Sir Francis wanted to better the typical times achieved by the fastest fully crewed clipper ships during the heyday of commercial sail in the 19th century, (the first recorded solo circumnavigation of the globe was achieved by Joshua Slocum in 1898 but it took him three years with numerous stops - Slocum also took up the harder challenge of sailing east to west, against the prevailing wind).

Chichester was knighted for this achievement. For the ceremony, the Queen used the sword used by her ancestor Queen Elizabeth I to knight the adventurer Sir Francis Drake (the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe). He was also honoured by a 1/9 postage stamp in 1967, which showed him aboard Gipsy Moth IV, even though he was neither royal nor dead when the stamp was issued. In 1970, Chichester attempted to sail 4,000 miles in 20 days, in Gypsy Moth V; he failed by one day.

Francis Chichester died of lung cancer in Plymouth, Devon on August 26, 1972. Gipsy Moth IV was preserved alongside the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, until she required complete restoration. During 2005 through 2007, she embarked on an educational round-the-world voyage. In spring 2006, she ran aground on an atoll in the Pacific and after an extensive restoration in Auckland, the ship was repaired and sailing again in July 2006. After being accompanied into Plymouth by a huge flotilla of boats to welcome them home, the Gipsy Moth IV docked at West Hoe Pier on the 28th May 2007, as it did exactly 40 years ago, to complete its journey round the world.

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