I suspect some of us in the audience were a little apprehensive. Chay is one of the biggest names in the UK for adventures and feats on the high seas. Knighted for it.
We were wrong to worry. Chay was charming, self-effacing and entertaining. And he really did have a story to tell.
Chay joined the Paras from the factory-floor and was soon rowing the Atlantic in an open 20 footer with John Ridgeway, having never rowed before (!). Was there any strain in this relationship? Did, someone once ask Chay, John row too? In a rare contemporary public speech Chay dispelled the doubts. John, he told his audience then, certainly did row – when Chay was cooking…
Chay entered the first single handed round-the-world race, having never sailed before (!), in a 30 foot bilge-keeled family cruiser. He got as far as the Cape of Good Hope, and broached so often he thought this was just normal behaviour for a small yacht. This was the race from which Donald Crowhurst was not to return. In fact only one competitor finished – Robin Knox-Johnson.
Chay was the first person to sail non-stop around the world “the wrong way” i.e. against the prevailing winds and currents, in the Clarke designed “British Steel”. Signalled mid-ocean from a passing vessel, as to where he was bound, he signalled back “Southampton”. To the next question “Whence from?” he signalled “Southampton”. To the last question “via where?” he signalled “Southampton!”. Chay is not a man to waste words. This historic voyage lasted 292 days and a grand welcome was organised with The Ark Royal, massed ratings, a band, and crowds of thousands. The last few days of the voyage had been faster than expected and Chay was at risk of arriving before his welcome party. He was told to “get lost for 2 days”.
After numerous excitements aboard ever bigger boats including a trimaran that capsized during a record attempt off Cape Horn, Chay turned his hand to power boating, co-skippering with Richard Branson.
At some point Chay organised a trans-Atlantic rowing race, expecting a handful of boats; perhaps 5. In the event there were 28 competitors – half of them pretty clueless. (One of the competitors was an ex-mayor of Chipping Norton – ed.)
The talk ended with a short movie, showing the battering of the boats and crew in the Global Challenge – the organisation founded by Chay that allowed ordinary men and women to experience the extremes of round-the-world yacht racing. Most memorable was a “blink and you’ve missed it” clip in which a cockpit full of crew is suddenly completely empty, apart from some green water and foam. Wow!
Impressed, were we? Well, you could say that!
POSTSCRIPT: I heard the other day a quotation from Ulysses by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron (1809–92) and I hope Chay will take no offence from my quoting it. It seemed apt. (Ed.)
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That lov’d me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vex’d the dim sea. I am become a name..