Around the world single-handed with a Rolex, Sir Francis Chichester

A HARDY TIMEPIECE “Gipsy Moth IV needs repairs after capsizing in the Tasman Sea, but the Rolex ticks on happily. Francis Chichester.” (Autographed picture.)

British yachtsman Sir Francis Chichester’s name remains forever engraved in the history of yachting as the first person to sail around the world alone from west to east, along the fastest route available – the clipper route. During his pioneering exploit in 1966–1967, he was accompanied by a no less hardy companion, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which took the same drenching and scrapes as he did on stormy oceans.

Sir Francis Chichester was given a hero’s welcome and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II after his 226-day journey covering more than 29,500 miles (about 47,600 kilometres) on the 16-metre (55-foot) ketch, Gipsy Moth IV. He had single- handedly sailed the same path as the speedy 19th- century sailing ships with 20-strong crews that plied their trade between Europe and the Far East, with a stopover in Australia. As a measure of his solo exploit on board the mahogany-hulled yacht, the clipper route is favoured by the most testing round- the-world yacht races, which only appeared after his odyssey. Sailing the length of the Atlantic Ocean south across the equator, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and circumnavigating much of the Southern Ocean past Cape Horn, for a return leg northwards along the Atlantic, was the fastest and most direct way between the major continents by sea before the Suez and Panama Canals were built. And, even today, it remains the most risky and adventurous, exposed to the fiercest elements and long tracts of treacherous open sea, far from land and rescue – despite the huge progress in communications technology, navigation, boat building and safety, including the advent of satellites, since Gipsy Moth IV’s voyage.


A Hardy Timepiece Sir Francis’s Rolex became a trusted navigational aid, as he plotted his position and course from the sun or the stars. “During my voyage around the world in Gipsy Moth IV, my Rolex Watch was knocked off my wrist several times without being damaged,” he wrote in a letter in 1968. “I cannot imagine a hardier timepiece. When using [it] for sextant work and working the foredeck, it was frequently banged, also doused by waves coming aboard; but it never seemed to mind all this.” Sir Francis epitomized a certain spirit of yachting and adventure. An entrepreneur and aviator, he took up ocean sailing in the 1950s and won the first solo transatlantic race in 1960, sailing from Plymouth (UK) to New York in 40 days. With his circumnavigation, the unassuming 65 year-old beat yachtsmen half his age and defied critics who felt his twin-mast yacht was best handled by a crew of eight. On 17 September 1966, during the early stages of his single- handed journey, Sir Francis donned a dinner jacket to quietly celebrate his birthday in mid-Atlantic with a champagne cocktail. Months later, an estimated quarter of a million people lined the shore to cheer him home as he sailed into Plymouth.

29,600 MILES
in 226 days’ sailing time. Fastest voyage around the world by any small boat.
Plymouth – Sydney – Plymouth

15,500 MILES
Record holder for longest non-stop single-handed voyage:
Plymouth – Sydney, 14,100 miles;
Sydney – Plymouth, 15,500 miles
Held 1966–1969

Record speed for single-handed eight-day run, along a Great Circle Line.