Francis Charles Chichester was born in Shirwell, North Devon, on 17 September 1901, the son of a Church of England clergyman, Charles Chichester.
He emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 18 where he co-founded a number of timber, real estate and aviation companies. He returned to England in 1929 and learnt to fly, capping this achievement with the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea two years later in a Gipsy Moth aeroplane that had been converted into a seaplane. He became the first holder of the Johnson Memorial Trophy on completing this feat.
He made the first long-distance solo flight in a seaplane when he flew from Australia to Japan, although this nearly ended in tragedy when he was badly injured after hitting an overhead cable and crashing into Katsuura Harbour.
Having been diagnosed with lung cancer in 1958 and given just six months to live, Francis Chichester spent much of the 1960s pitting himself against the elements, sailing in Atlantic crossings and an epic round-the-world voyage.
On 21 July 1960, Chichester sailed into New York to break the record for a solo Atlantic crossing. His 39-foot sloop, Gipsy Moth III (continuing the series named after his plane), had left Plymouth 40 days earlier and had battled against hurricane-strength winds during the voyage that wiped 16 days off the previous best. (He would later set another record of 33 days for this crossing in 1962.)
He was knighted in 1967 in a public ceremony where Queen Elizabeth ll used the very sword that Queen Elizabeth I had given to Plymouth’s other great seafaring hero, Sir Francis Drake.
Diagnosed with cancer again in 1971, Illness struck after he began his fourth single-handed Transatlantic race the following year and Sir Francis Chichester KBE died in Plymouth on 26 August 1972.
He was honoured in 1979 in the Navigators Memorial plaque at Westminster Abbey. This features the vessels and routes of three great English circumnavigators: Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook and Sir Francis Chichester.