Gipsy Moth Circles the World, Francis Chichester
A Young Man’s Dream, An Old Man’s Triumph
“Chichester’s voyage was a classic of its kind. His book is a classic document of self punishing endurance. Chichester was in his own way an explorer in the tradition of Scott and Shackleton. Unlike Scott and Schackleton, in these pages he bares himself and his mood swings to the reader’s gaze, and one is privileged to be his intimate on this loneliest and most harrowing voyages.” Jonathan Raban
Book Review by Mark Lewis
The remarkable thing about a book like this is not the book at all, but the event. As readers, we respond not to the prose, but to the journey of an aging Brit with a weak leg, a leaky boat, and the will to circumnavigate the globe, alone and in a record shattering 226 days.
It was not the sort of journey you and I would depart on. You or I do not have the resources to commission a 53 foot boat. You or I do not suffer from life-long myopia or from a diagnosis of terminal cancer. You or I do not have the will (or hubris) to set off, not on a leisurely sight-seeing tour of the seven oceans, but a pell-mell race against the clock. You and I are normal. Francis Chichester taught what is to be more than that.
For the most part, Gipsy Moth Circles the World is a straight forward narrative accounting of the voyage. It is not poetic or particularly evocative. It has been criticised as being repetitive and flat in the telling. Which perhaps it is. Derek Lundy, writing about the Vendee Globe in 1998’s, Godforsaken Sea uses 10 adjectives to every one of Chichester’s. If the Lundy book is gosh-gee-wow about the Southern Ocean, Chichester is matter of fact.
This quote provides about as much flash as the man could muster …
Twice I entered the Forties, and was driven out by a gale. A 50-knot squall going through was like the infernal regions, with great white monsters bearing down out of a black void, picking up the boat and dashing it about. I hated the feeling of being out of control. Once a wave broke over the cockpit, not seriously, but the immense power it showed was frightening. I wrote; “It requires a Dr Johnson to describe this life. I should add that the cabin floor is all running wet, and my clothes are beginning to gt pretty wet too. Vive le yachting!”
Like Slocum before him, Chichester underplays the events and conditions of his voyage. It was not pleasant. And inspite of the requisite beautiful sunset passages, there was nothing pleasant about it.
Gipsy Moth Circles the World, Leaky Boat, Broken Rudder and All
All the things that make single handed voyage more difficult than need be are properly present in this narrative; an unwieldy and unbalanced boat, a vessel much too large for a single-hander to sail comfortably, rotting stores, uncertain hydration, broken parts, lumpy seas, depression, injuries and an entirely unrealistic objective.
Adventure Literature is rife it. Franchis Chichester’s troubles with Gipsy Moth improperly remind one of fellow Brit’s motley vessels in Slowly Down the Ganges; their respective vessels seem constantly in need of attention of one sort or another, but their patrons persevered regardless; and mostly without complaint.
Conversely, one is reminded of Joshua Slocum’s vessel, the Spray. In Sailing Alone Around the World I can never once remember reading an account of the boat’s weaknesses, only her strengths.
More so the testament to Chichester’s resolve. Circumnavigation in boat so unbalanced, with a cabin constantly wet due to poor joints, sails much too large to handle with any sort of ease, and an aching body aging body would have given almost anybody cause to throw in the towel. That the journey only took 226 days must have been cause for celebration, if only because he could be rid of the boat.
Francis Chichester and Gipsy Moth Circles the World, What Was Achieved
In the end, Chichester made his circumnavigation with only one stop. The events recorded in Gipsy Moth Circles the World are far more impressive than what the text itself reveals.
- The fastest voyage round the world by any small vessel (approximately twice as fast).
- Longest passage that has been made by a small sailing vessel without a port of call (15,500).
- More than twice the distance of the previous longest passage by a singlehander.
Chichester’s real achievement, however is the intangible optimism he gave not only to the then reverent Great Britain but to the generations that follow. As J.R.L. Anderson writes, it is an achievement …
… embedded in the hearts of every one of us. He has succeeded in making dreams come true, his own private dreams, and the dreams tht most men have from time to time as they fare on that ”long fool’s errand to the grave.”
Ultimately, the circumnavigation inspired the first solo round the world race, the 1968 Golden Globe, which in turn inspired the likes of Moitessier and others who have since defined long distance sailing, both as challenge and meditation.
Gipsy Moth Circles the World, The Open Critic Verdict
Is Gipsy Moth Circles the World great literature? No. Does it inspire? Yes? Is it worth reading? For lovers of Adventure Literature, for the jaded, and for the curious; yes. If your dream is of Prada mink; by all means, no.
Dream of something bigger, buy it, read it, and stop making excuses.
Books Referred to in this Article
- Slowly Down the Ganges
- God Forsaken Sea, Derek Lundy
- Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum
- The Long Way, Bernard Moitessier
TagsAdventure Literature, Book, Book Review, Chichester, Circumnavigation, Francis Chichester, Gipsy Moth Circles the World, Gipsy Moth IV, Literature, Sailing, Sailing Literature, The Open Critic
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- 02.23.07 / 6pm