On a recent sail down from Plymouth to Newlyn (supposedly en route for the Scillies, but that idea was scotched by 55mph winds bringing the heatwave to an end) I read Sir Francis Chichester’s memoir of his solo race across the Atlantic in 1960, the race he won on Gypsy Moth III.
What a story and what a man. He took to sailing late in life and was in his 60s by the time he attempted this race. The man’s immense practicality, stamina and resourcefulness is quite remarkable, particularly viewed from today’s perspective. On our sail last week, it was easy for us to reef in the foresail when the wind got stronger, because the rolling reef system just lets you pull on a rope. On Gypsy Moth, Chichester had to get up in the middle of the night, crawl on deck, take down the foresail, roll it up, bring out a different-sized one, put that up, and an hour and a half later go back downstairs to bed.
He suffers from seasickness so is often to be found skipping supper and opting instead for a large glass of whisky and two SeaLegs tablets. He has three crates of Guinness on board which provide his lunchtime beverage and in classic solo sailer style, he anthropomorphises various items on his boat, particularly the redoubtable Miranda who is his self-steering mechanism which he built himself before leaving Plymouth.
If ever there was a book to inspire you to keep on keeping on, it’s this. Pithy, entirely lacking in any kind of self pity or regret and full of excellent humour, it’s a delight from start to finish.
Two additional pleasure on this short trip: one the sunrise in the east at 5.40am as we sailed westwards past Fowey which followed the equally beautiful moonset an hour before in the west.
The second was finding Frenchman’s Creek in the Helford River estuary, the creek made famous of course by Daphne du Maurier. As I walked down the overgrown path towards the creek itself, with branches creating a roof for the path and huge tree roots lying exposed in the mud of the creek itself, it reminded me what a brilliant storyteller she was: the place looked precisely as she had described it in her great novel about the dashing French pirate and the independent English gentlewoman.