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Mike Richey

Mike Richey was born in England in 1917 but much of his early childhood was spent abroad, first of all in Albania where his father, a distinguished soldier, was for a time inspector general of the Albanian Gendarmerie and later at school in Switzerland when his parents were living in France. Later he and his brother Paul went to Downside School run by the Benedictines. After Downside he became apprenticed to the sculptor Eric Gill.
At the outbreak of war in 1939 his initial instincts were pacifist but he settled for minesweeping and with the help of a friend, a retired naval paymaster captain, was able to sign on as seaman in the Royal Naval Patrol Service and was posted to HMS Goodwill, a converted fishing vessel. After the ship was blown up in 1940 Mike undertook training as an officer and was commissioned. He was then at sea for practically the whole war, mostly in the North Atlantic on anti-submarine work but later on other missions as far south as the Antarctic and as far north as Russia

He spent a year with the Free French Navy and another year in an armed merchant cruiser in the South Atlantic. It was here he developed his particular interest in astronomical navigation, then the only position fixing aid offshore. Following that commission he took the long course at the Navigation School, HMS Dryad after which his appointments were all as navigator.
When he left the Navy in 1946 he delivered an ex-naval vessel from Gibraltar to Oslo at the end of which he bitterly regretted having to give up navigation for good. By good chance, however, he was shortly appointed as chief executive of the newly formed (now Royal) Institute of Navigation at the Royal Geographical Society, a post he held from its formation in 1947 until he retired as Director in 1980. In 1948 he founded The Journal of Navigation which he continued to edit until 1985.
In the early 1950s Mike took up ocean racing and for some years navigated many of the more competitive yachts on either side of the Atlantic. In 1964, to some extent encouraged by his friend Francis Chichester who had won the first single-handed transatlantic race, he bought Jester from Blondie Hasler when the boat got back to England after the second race. From then on most of Mike's seafaring was to be single-handed. His accounts of Jester's many ocean passages have, as appropriate, been published in the Journal of Navigation, Roving Commissions (journal of the Royal Cruising Club), Yachting Monthly and the American Cruising World. Amongst other ocean voyages Jester had sailed in every single-handed transatlantic passages since the first. However, in the course of the 1988 race the boat was abandoned because of storm damage some 450 miles off Halifax Nova Scotia and Mike taken off by a bulk carrier.
The boat had not been insured and Mike felt unable to have a new boat built. However a trust was ultimately formed and a replica of the original boat built, albeit cold moulded rather than planked, by the Aldeburgh Boat Yard in time to take part in the next (1992) race. Jester also took part in the following race (1996) and finally, by special invitation because by then the minimum length had been increased to 30ft. the millennium race in 2000. A Jester has thus sailed in every single-handed transatlantic up until 2000.
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During the war Mike wrote an account of being blown up in HMS Goodwill. For various reasons it was published in America but was later to be awarded the first Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Literature. He edited The Sailing Encyclopedia (Stanford Maritime) and was for many years General Editor of the series of nautical books published by Hollis and Carter. In 1979 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Navigation and in 1986 the Seamanship Medal of the Royal Cruising Club. In 1997 he entered the Guiness Book of Records for having sailed single handed across the Atlantic and arriving at the age of 80 years 31 days.

Mike Richey died on 22nd December 2009, aged 92. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him, as well as the many others inspired by his outstanding achievements in the art of single-handed sailing and astro-navigation, most notably his exploits in Jester.

On Reflection by Mike Richey

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