Chichester’s Gipsy Moth flies again

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Newly restored, the historic 53-foot ketch once again will sail around the world

Newly restored, the historic 53-foot ketch once again will sail around the world

Gipsy Moth IV, the 53-foot ketch that carried Sir Francis Chichester around the world solo in 1966-’67, will circle the globe again.

The historic yacht, resurrected from the concrete grave where it had been left to rot, was relaunched June 20 at the Camper & Nicholsons yard. The British boatyard, which built GM IV in 1966, recently completed a five-month $550,000 restoration of the wood-hulled yacht.

GM IV had been on exhibit in a concrete dry dock in Greenwich, England, where she was exposed to the elements and to the carelessness of the public for four decades, says Anna Symcox, spokesperson for the UK Sailing Academy, the non-profit organization that now owns the boat.

“It had beer cans in it and graffiti on it,” she says. “It was in a terrible state, really.” Built of cold-molded Honduras mahogany, GM IV was full of rot from rainwater. “The surveyor said if she’d been on the ground another year we wouldn’t have had a boat to restore,” says Symcox.

Chichester was 65 years old when he completed his circumnavigation on GM IV, becoming the first man to sail around the world solo with just one port of call, Sydney, Australia. He was knighted for the feat.

The intrepid single-hander won the first OSTAR trans-Atlantic race on Gipsy Moth III in 1960. He died in 1972 at the age of 71, two months after abandoning a trans-Atlantic race with Gipsy Moth V due to cancer.

GM IV will set sail from Plymouth Sept. 25 on the first leg of its second round-the-world voyage with the Blue Water Rally, a 21-leg around-the-world rally for cruisers. She will sail with a crew of six: a skipper from the UK Sailing Academy, a mate, a journalist and more than 60 young people who will rotate on and off the boat in threes each leg. GM IV is scheduled to return to Plymouth May 28, 2006, 40 years to the day after Chichester completed his voyage around the world.

Though GM IV carried Chichester into history, the sailor was never very happy with the way the John Illingworth/Angus Primrose design handled at sea. He told the world of his unhappiness in his book about the voyage, “Gipsy Moth Circles the World.”

“It turned out to be a very difficult boat,” Symcox says. “He had quite a difficult relationship with it.” Hence, his decision after the voyage to put it out to pasture.

Symcox says academy staff will trial the boat this summer and could make modifications if GM IV proves too contrary. The yard already has modified the rudder for better maneuverability, but Symcox says the aim of the restoration was to return the boat as near to its original condition as possible. “We’ll just have to wait and see how she sails today,” she says. “It will be interesting.”

Latter-day circumnavigators will find GM IV no more comfortable than when Chichester sailed her around the world four decades ago. She will have the original oil stove and self-steering gear, no hot water, and six bunks instead of one in her long, skinny hull. “There will be no luxury,” Symcox says. “It will not be a very comfortable boat with six people.”

UK Sailing Academy, which restored the yacht with the help of the British magazine Yachting Monthly, is trying to raise another $730,000 to pay the youngsters’ way on GM IV’s circumnavigation and additional money to operate and maintain the historic yacht as a sail trainer.

“It’s a classic boat,” Symcox says. “It’s going to take money to keep it afloat. We want to keep her in the water.”