Historic round-the-world yacht Gipsy Moth IV enjoyed an uncharacteristically empty Solent this afternoon at Skandia Cowes Week

As she left the pontoon this afternoonGipsy Moth IVcouldn’t help but betray her age. Anyone who has sailed a long-keeled boat will know that they were never designed for marina use, and manoeuvring a 54ft yacht in a cramped Cowes Yacht Haven is no joke. But traditional boats respond to traditional techniques, and after a bit of work with a stern spring and some healthy effort from skipper Richard Baggett and his crew for the day, Frank Fletcher, we were off into a deserted Solent to chase the elusive breeze.

That breeze unfortunately continued to evade us, but we put up the sails regardless and tried to work up some apparent wind with the engine. Standing at the helm of such a historic yacht was a real privilege, and she certainly attracts attention. I don’t think it was just the fact that we were the only boat apparently sailing that drew an endless procession of RIBs to admire her, including a flying visit from Ellen MacArthur.

I’d been invited on board as part ofGipsy Moth IV’s hospitality programme at Cowes, taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime chance to step on board and absorb the atmosphere of the famous yacht in which Sir Francis Chichester completed his legendary circumnavigation nearly 40 years ago. My feeling of privilege at being aboard is far from unusual – the more you learn about this yacht, the more you feel awed by the sheer weight of history behind her. Asked what he found the most surprising thing about the boat, Richard Baggett said: “The effect she had on so many people. I wasn’t really aware of the history, and have been totally gobsmacked throughout the restoration by the number of people who had been inspired by this boat to go sailing.”

Sir Francis had a strange relationship withGipsy Moth IVand frequently cursed her motion and handling. Even on a calm day she has a slightly curious motion, pitching significantly in quite minor waves. Below the waterline the keel modifications that Chichester put in place have been made permanent, and significant alterations have been made to the rudder to improve her handling and lighten the tiller steering, but it will be interesting to see howGipsy Moth IV’s new crew handle her when she enters more challenging waters.

The boat is a curious juxtaposition of old and new – in some ways she is very much a boat of her time, and stepping below the smell of new paint does nothing to reduce the feeling of entering a time warp. The equipment on view could have been (and mostly was) installed when she was built, and a visitor is immediately greeted by a two-burner Primus stove and chrome taps offering salt and fresh water. Just around the next bulkhead lurks the chart table, surmounted by the original instruments including the Marconi Kestrel HF radio and a fully functional RDF set. Modern technology has not entirely failed to make an impression though – with a slight flourish Richard lifted the panel containing the radio to reveal a state-of-the-art navigation station.

TheGipsy Moth IVproject is a joint venture from the UK Sailing Academy andYachting Monthly, who plan to crew the boat with young people for her round-the-world voyage. If you want to find out more about this historic yacht, go to the Gipsy Moth stand at Cowes Yacht Haven to arrange a visit – she’s open to visitors between from 8:30 to 10:30 and 15:00-18:00 every day.