Gipsy Moth IV


The author tells the story of an extraordinary endeavour to restore a static marine exhibit to full operational capability. Sir Francis Chichester captured the public imagination in many countries during his record-breaking circumnavigation. It seemed natural that his unique yacht should be turned into a static exhibit in a dry dock alongside the historic tea clipper Cutty Sark at Greenwich, London. This raises the traditional debate as to whether a vehicle of any kind is better preserved as a static display or be preserved by operation. Boats, land vehicles and aeroplanes all have a natural environment and the technology means so much more when the vehicle continues in operation. However, preservation by operation introduces risk because the subject can fail and be destroyed, although, as in the case of a failed attempt on Gipsy Moth, and a successful attempt in drydock on Cutty Sark by arsonists, static display is not without risk either. Operation introduces many new costs and requires the recreation of components and skills to keep the subject operational, but effective preservation in static display does not come cheap either. In the case of a boat or ship, the creation of a fully controlled display environment can be prohibitively expensive and frequently results in towing the vessel to a disused drydock and pumping out the water. The vessel is then exposed to the elements and the tramping feet of visitors, timbers drying out, metalwork corroding, and GRP hulls and topworks breaking down under relentless effects of weather. This is static preservation on the cheap and many artefacts have been permanently lost as a result of this approach. Doing the job properly can be extremely difficult, even for relatively small exhibits, where full protection from the elements, and the visitors, with regular necessary conservation work and effective security, can be an enormous continuing expense. On balance, most subjects are best preserved by operation but this is a huge enterprise even for relatively small subjects. Gipsy Moth IV was an advanced design, employing state of the art technology that had not prior examples of longevity. She was built specifically to make a fast single-handed circumnavigation but she ended up as a vessel that really required a crew of at least three people, making her single-handed circumnavigation a particular triumph for Chichester. The author tells the story of the battle to acquire and restore the boat for a commemorative circumnavigation. He then recounts the trials and tribulations of the voyage with its relay of crews giving young and disadvantaged people an experience of a lifetime.

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