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Meeting the Legend
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Meeting the Legend

It is not a surprise that the name Chay Blyth comes to the forefront when talking about the firsts of sailing. The first success of the British sailor, who found the purpose of his life in the seas where he was thrown in as a novice, was to complete the "Impossible Voyage". This was followed by the long list of victories that gave him the title of "Sir" and turned him into a star in the eyes of anyone in the world who has a close interest in sailing. In spite of all of this, if you are expecting a character that is hard to approach, ask questions, and talk, then you are wrong. Speaking of every adventure he has undertaken as though it was just an ordinary memory, Blyth makes you believe that legends are real.
Written by Ayşegül Bakış 
We hosted Chay Blyth on Naviga's pages for the first time in December 2012. At that time, he was caught on our camera while sailing the Marmaris coast in his boat. This time, our paths crossed again at the exhibition grounds of Istanbul Boat Show. Blyth had an impressive presentation that made everyone laugh and think of “Sea Talks” organized by CNR Eurasia Boat Show. Being at sea for years, fighting the rough waves, feeling the sweet touch of the winds, experiencing great victories and also great losses, we would not expect anything less from the master sailor who organized races and gave seminars all over the world.
For those who could not attend the seminar, let us first recall the legendary life story of Blyth...
Chay Blyth, the seventh and youngest child of a working-class family, grew up in Hawick, which could be the farthest possible place from the sea in Scotland. He joined the army at the age of 18. He was obsessed with the issue of survival; in the desert, in the Arctic, in a parachute...
One day, when he heard Captain John Ridgway wanted to row the Atlantic Ocean in a tub-sized boat, he decided it was the adventure and survival battle he was looking for.
John Ridgway was not the creator of this crazy project. The idea came from a journalist named David Johnstone and was looking for a competitor who would rival him.
Hearing that Captain Ridgway needed a rower, Blyth didn’t miss the opportunity. He was a soldier Captain had known for eight years, they had jumped together with a parachute and he trusted him. But there was a minor problem: Blyth's maritime experience consisted of crossing the English Channel by steamboat. Both soldiers were young, and they were physically very fit.  This must have frightened their rivals so that they set sail two weeks before them.
Blyth and Ridgway had a delayed departure due to various obstacles. They set sail on their boat, English Rose III, on July 4, 1966, waving to those ashore from Cape Cod on the US east coast.
Inexperienced Blyth followed the Captain's orders along the way. After 92 days full of storms, sharks, whales, they returned to their homes with the 20 feet English Rose III and were greeted with greater interest than they expected. However, the biggest shock for them was to learn that their rivals were lost at sea and their boat was found upside down.
After returning ashore, he responded to those who asked why he set out on this journey; “Because at the end of my days, I'm going to be lying in my bed looking at my toes, and I'm going to ask my toes questions like 'Have I really enjoyed life? Have I done everything I've wanted to do?' And if the answer is no, I'm going to be really pissed off."
1968 was a year that those who follow the sailing races closely know well. Deciding that he wanted to pursue an 'adventurous' life after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat, Blyth was impressed by the circumnavigation (with stops) that Sir Francis Chichester made around the world. The Sunday Times newspaper's announcement for sailing nonstop around the world race was the call that Blyth was waiting for; Captain John Ridgway could not say no to the same call. This time the two soldiers returned to the ocean on different boats. Neither of them had much sailing experience, and they set sail from England to the Southern Ocean on 9-meter cruise boats; first Captain Ridgway onboard English Rose IV and a week later Chay Blyth onboard Dytiscus. Allegedly, Blyth had so little sailing experience that on the race day, his friends equipped his sails and went in front of him with another sailboat to show him when to tack.
The setbacks followed Blyth throughout the race. He realized that water had escaped into the generator fuel, which caused the radio to malfunction. He stopped and repaired his generator and withdrew from the race. However, while already in the ocean, he decided to test his own limits and proceeded up to Cape Town. Meanwhile, he was beginning to construct in his mind what his next adventure would be.
In 1970, this time he set sail for a nonstop circumnavigaton against prevailing wind and current. Although he was still not a very experienced sailor, he already was burning with a passion to achieve what was not done before.
After 292 days, he returned to the point where he had started with his boat British Steel. In fact, he would complete the course three days earlier than expected, but they asked him to 'linger' for about three days, as the program and activities of Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were arranged for three days later.
The welcome, which was attended by thousands of people, offered Blyth the reward for his suffering. After that, it was certain that he would experience various kinds of adventure in the seas exactly as he wanted. As another sailor Sir Francis Chichester said “Impossible” when asked to comment on this voyage, Blyth took part in all newspaper headlines as the man who achieved the impossible.
Of course, what Chay Blyth’s achievements are, are a lot more than that. His logbook is so packed with adventures that pages are not enough to tell them all. Happily we were able to meet him and to listen to some of the extraordinary stories.
How did you decide to cross the Atlantic in a rowboat, while you had no such experience?
I didn’t come up with the idea. It was a guy called Johnson. He had found that two Norwegian fishermen from Gloucester in Nova Scotia had done the trip in 1896. He wanted to emulate that again. We were two Paratroopers, Captain Ridgway and myself a Sergeant, anything for an adventure decided to race Johnson who by this time had a rowing partner called Hoare.

First rowing, then sailing. Was being on the sea always a challenge for you?
There was no plan or idea to go from rowing to sailing. I was contacted soon after we had finished the rowing by an owner of a sailing school who offered to take me sailing, by this time I had left the Army. It was an obvious step and I thought sailing has to be easier than rowing. So I went out as a pupil for a few short day trips and liked it. However, I did not learn very much because the others on board somehow seemed to think I could sail. I used to end up making the cups of tea rather than be embarrassed by not being able to do the actions whilst sailing. I enjoyed going out on the water, it was very new to me and a new adventure.

Is it true that you joined the Golden Globe Race with no sailing experience or navigational knowledge?
The owner of the sailing school said the biggest problem in sailing is when you are close to land. As I was going deep sea it took away all the skills needed for to sail close to land such as entering a port. He also said I could write down the actions required for celestial navigation as a crib sheet and just follow that. There was no need to understand it, just to do it.

How did you feel when they asked you to wait, while you completed the singlehanded non-stop westwards circumnavigation called “Impossible Voyage” earlier than expected? How did those three days pass?
Killing the three days waiting to arrive back home was a bit frustrating but never the less good. It gave me time to clean/tidy up the yacht and for me a bit of a rest. One has to accept that in sailing planning on definite times are difficult and I knew there was going to be a reception when I arrived.

Losing a team member in the ocean as you had in Whitbread should be a very sad experience. Did you find it difficult to go to the sea again?
Losing a man overboard was devastating and something nobody wants to happen. In those days there was not the sophistication of man over board IT equipment you have now. It was all physical and trying to keep the man in sight. It happened during a fierce gale between New Zealand and Cape Horn. We were between 45 and 50 degrees South and in amongst icebergs. My crew and I were all Paratroopers and all of us had seen active service so in a sort of way, we had seen deaths before and knew how to handle that situation within our own minds.

You have inspired many people in the world with the races you have participated and the organizations you have organized, and have made them go out to sea. Does it make you feel responsible for them?
I am always trying to encourage others not just to have adventurous sails but other types of adventures. I do not feel responsible for them, they must take their own responsibility and before going on the adventure evidently for themselves whether they go or not.

Do you have a dream that you haven't realized yet?
Yes, I have hopes of doing another personal ‘old mans’ adventure and that will remain confidential.

What do you think about today's racing boats and offshore races, as someone who did a circumnavigaton against prevailing wind and current without using modern technology?
The technology has made the sailing more competitive and more interesting. We can now see how yachts are doing in a race, where they are in relation to the other yachts in the race. What weather they are going to get and what they get. The safety is enhanced dramatically. Onboard British Steel I had a radio call once a week and it had to be arranged the previous week with a definite time and frequencies. Now, you can call up and have a normal telephone conversation as if you were in the next building at a press of a button anytime you wish. This on turn is good and bad for families, race organisers etc. They get news often but if no news, they think the worst. It could just be a problem with batteries or charging.

You also organize activities focused on challenging at sea. Do you think there are still undiscovered adventures in the world?
The problem with sailing adventures is that there is none left, so people turn to ‘breaking speed records’ so end up saying they were the fastest. This is all a bit of rubbish as yacht development in speed and IT continue at great speed. So you can’t compare a yacht 10 years ago with one of today as the new is so much more advanced. If you want to break a speed record you just get a bigger yacht!

Can you tell us about the boat you are currently using; where do you sail?
Our yacht was a Contest 48, fabulous yacht, loved it. A great sea going yacht. Perfect for sailing round the world with. I kept it in Fethiye at Ece Marina, great place.

I read that you attended the Round Britain Race with your daughter Samantha and she even admitted that she was badly affected by harsh sea conditions. Are you still sailing together?
My daughter does sail with me but only occasionally. I don’t race anymore so it’s cruising when she sails with me. We get along very well and she is a good crew member.

What are your favorite anchorages in Turkey?
I love sailing in Turkish Waters, it has some of the best sailing in the world. Fethiye was my base and I’d sail as far South as Kekova and as far North as Bodrum. There’s enough in that to keep you well pleased for the season. The Turkish people I found to be excellent. As to a favourite Bay, can’t tell you that other wise I may not be able to get space to anchor next time I go???

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