This painting celebrates Sir Francis Chichester’s record-breaking sail around the globe in 1966-67 at the age of 65. Chichester commissioned Camper and Nicholsons to build his ketch Gipsy Moth IV specifically for the voyage, where he intended to follow the route and race against the times set by Clippers during the height of commercial sail in the nineteenth century. Departing Plymouth on 27th August 1966 and returning just 274 days later, on 28th May 1967, he became the first person to circumnavigate the world solo from West to East via the great Capes. A few weeks after his return the feat was recognised by a knighthood for his ‘individual achievement and sustained endeavour in the navigation and seamanship of small craft’.
Chichester’s fellow Royal Yacht Squadron member Colonel Bill Whitbread commissioned Norman Wilkinson to commemorate the voyage and presented a painting to the yachtsman after his return in 1967. The present work, which is thought to be a preliminary version, is not dissimilar from the original and shows Gipsy Moth IV fully exposed amongst the elements rounding the notorious Cape Horn, the experience of which Chichester later shared in an article for Life Magazine.
The waves were tremendous. They varied each time, but all were like great sloping walls towering behind you. The kind I liked least was like a great bank of gray-green earth 50' (15 m) high and very steep. Image yourself at the bottom of one. My cockpit was filled five times and once it took more than 15 minutes to drain. My wind-reading machine stopped recording at 60 knots. My self-steering could not cope with the buffeting....I had a feeling of helplessness.
Wilkinson cleverly goes some way to conveying these thoughts in the painting, as a seemingly very small and semi-hidden Gipsy Moth battles with the ferocity of the ocean.