Proposals to keep Sir Francis Chichester’s famous yacht as a working museum took a major step forward at the London Boat Show

Rob Thompson and Eileen Skinner, the business couple from East Anglia, who stepped in to save the 53ft ketch for the Nation last October, called together a group of experts to advise on a programme to keep the yacht in the public domain and promote the work of UKSA, the Cowes-based charity.

Eileen Skinner says: “We want the boat to continue to be available to the public, and are looking to have her sailing in five or six events each year. These are likely to include the Round the Island Race, Cowes Week, British Classic Yacht Club Panerai Cowes Regatta, and others both in the West Country and East Anglia.” Rob Thompson is particularly keen to have the yacht visit their East Coast base.

The advisory group they formed this week includes Giles Chichester MEP, the son of Sir Francis Chichester; David Orton, secretary of the British Classic Yacht Club; Bob Bradfield, a UKSA advisory group member who was closely involved with the 2005-7 restoration and circumnavigation; Paul Lees, owner of Crusader Sails and a long term supporter of Gipsy Moth IV; Jon Ely, the CEO of UKSA, and Luke McCarthy, the head coach at the British Keelboat Academy who is charged with the day-to-day management of the yacht.

The group is advising how best to utilise the yacht, including maximising public access to the yacht, keeping her in the UK for future generations and raising sufficient funds to enable a number of young people to sail on the boat each year.

The 53ft yacht, which stood forlornly in dry-dock next to the Cutty Sark at Greenwich for 39 years, following Chichester’s solo circumnavigation, was rescued from rotting away by a campaign led by UKSA and Yachting Monthly magazine. UKSA raised more than £1m to have the yacht restored, and organised for her to sail round the world with a rotating crew of disadvantaged youth to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Chichester’s circumnavigation.

Last year, UKSA decided it could no longer afford to maintain the yacht and put her up for sale. After six months, a report that no British buyers had yet been found for the yacht prompted Thompson and Skinner to step in.

Rob Thompson recalls: “Gipsy Moth IV is such an important part of Britain’s maritime heritage, I can remember Chichester returning to Plymouth in a blaze of media coverage in 1967. England had just won the World Cup. We were in the midst of the Swinging Sixties and there was a buzz about. They were particularly good times and Chichester’s triumph was a part of this. When I read she was being sold, I picked up the phone to Eileen and she agreed with me that we should buy the yacht to maintain her for the Nation.”

The business couple, who in 2005 led a management buyout of the Cambridge Diet, now branded the Cambridge Weight Plan, asked for UKSA to continue managing the yacht and developing their work providing sailing opportunities for young people. The initial agreement runs for 5 years and Thompson and Skinner have pledged to cover a proportion of the costs during this period.

“Like a dog is not just for Christmas, we understand the enormity of this undertaking and are very aware that we must preserve Gipsy Moth for the rest of our lives, and find ways to keep her sailing after we have gone” says Thompson.

Eileen Skinner, whose husband is a retired boatbuilder, adds. “We want to make this a self-sustaining project by combining the charitable work that the UKSA undertakes with some corporate sailing. We are exploring ways to make her available for corporate use at high profile events to help fund the UKSA’s charitable sailing work and to maintain the yacht so that she can continue sailing for another 50 years or more.”