The marooned museum piece has been beautifully restored and is back in the water
After 38 years high and dry, the world’s most famous solo round the world yacht was returned gently to her natural environment today and reborn to a life afloat. Gipsy Moth IV, the 54ft ketch in which Francis Chichester became the first to sail alone round the world in 1966-67, was launched at Camper & Nicholson’s yard in Gosport following a painstaking five-month restoration.
The idea of springing the boat from her deathly concrete mausoleum at Greenwich was the brainchild of Paul Gelder, Editor of Yachting Monthly. He championed the cause, persuading the UK Sailing Academy (UKSA) to take up the baton and help raise the funds needed.
Gipsy Moth was in a sorry state when she was craned out of dry dock in November. John Walsh, joint project director on behalf of the UKSA, explains: “The boat was in a shabby condition and had suffered from years of neglect and the ravages of the London atmosphere. There was significant rot in parts where the rainwater could gather.”
The restoration began in January and was also overseen by Martyn Langford, joint project director working for Camper & Nicholsons. The job has been an extensive one, involving a core team of 10 or 11 people, rising at times to 35. “It has taken over 9,000 hours, of which 1,500 were unforeseen,” admits Langford. “The keel and adjacent timbers and ring frames had rotted and 16ft of the backbone had to be renewed. That was the major part.
“But the stem had also rotted and the first 4ft of the stem and adjacent hull planking and foredeck had to be replaced. Water had also got between the chainplates and the deck so most of the adjacent planking had rotted. A third of the beam shelves had rotted out, too, and we had to remove the interior joinery and some of the internal planking had to go.”
The team also replaced an extension to Gipsy Moth’s keel, which Chichester added during his stop in Sydney to give a straight run to her stepped keel and thus improve poor directional stability. This had been quickly and inexpensively made from steel plate. The refit gave her £10,000 worth of African mahogany in its place. The rudder has also been redesigned and is higher aspect ratio, hopefully remedying some of the unmannerly characteristics Chichester railed about.
The results are mouth-watering. Gipsy Moth gleams and oddly looks both more solid and more elegant than she ever did on the hard. She has been equipped with new winches, sails, standing and running rigging, mostly given free by suppliers. But much of the gear is still original. The main and mizzen masts, which were unanodised, were sanded back and polished and now gleam like silver. The electric windlass is overhauled and back in service, as are the Hasler self-steering and the Baby Blake heads. The young crew who will have the privilege of sailing Gipsy Moth in her new life will also have to manage – as Chichester did – with a two-burner Primus stove and a paraffin heater.
At the launch, David Green, director of the UKSA, drew a parallel between the original build and the restoration. “Chichester had said: ‘The cost of the boat has amounted to 50 per cent more than I understood it was going to be.’ I know how that feels!”
But he added: “Chichester was asked why he bothered with this whole circumnavigation thing and he said: ‘Because it intensifies life.’ And that’s part of the message. Sir Francis’s voyage was a milestone. He was the founding father, if you like, of all the global circumnavigations that have happened since.”
Gipsy Moth’s next public engagement will be the Fleet Review in Portsmouth. In September, she will set off again on another circumnavigation, joining along with the Blue Water Rally to sail round the world in the tradewinds, taking crews of young people.