Sailing Club. Had I any experience? ‘Of course.’ (I was careful not to say how little this experience was.) He said that we would go out for a trial sail, and as we got into his sailing dinghy he said, You take the tiller.’ We cast off, hoisted the sail and he said, ‘Luff!’ As the tiller was the only thing I had in hand, I pushed it.
‘I said “luff” damn you!’ I pushed it the other way, and learned what luff was. Charles Kennedy had a personality; he was 6 feet 7 inches tall, with a rather untidy old-fashioned greyish pointed beard, and a slow, deep gruff voice. He always wore socks with each toe separately knitted, like a glove. I crewed for him in one or two races that were good sport, but we rubbed each other up the wrong way though I respected him and liked him when we were not in the same boat. Finally he gave me the sack, and to make it worse gave my job to my young seventeen-year-old cousin, Judy Renshaw, a charming and most attractive girl. I managed to get one of the club boats for the next race, and asked Lois to crew for me; everyone loved Lois, and she was efficient, too. With her support, and by taking a risky short cut over a sandbank, I managed to beat Charlie. He kept quiet until the next race, when Bay Wyndham was crewing for me. There was a stiff breeze.
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Our yacht was a tangle of sheets and halyard falls and we were last, except for one boat which had lost its mast. As Bay grabbed the mooring buoy with the boat hook, I let run the mainsail halyard, but it jammed at the top of the mast. There was a wild flap and flutter while Bay held on to the mooring by brute force until I had the sail down. When we reached the club house it was packed with racing crews and Charlie, who was Commodore, shut up a telescope, and said in a loud voice, so that everyone in the club would hear, ‘I would like to congratulate you, Chichester, on having the strongest crew in the club.’
It was through him that I had my first solo sail. I borrowed his dinghy, and sailed down to the junction of the Torridge and Tor rivers, then up the Tor to Barnstaple Bridge and back to Instow. This voyage introduced me to the thrill of single- handed sailing. It was only about 6 V2 miles each way, but I still think with keen enjoyment of the sport I had scanning the current to decide the best route, and looking for a channel deep enough to carry the dinghy. In places I sounded with a bamboo pole as I sailed along over the mud-bank watersheds.
While I was in England, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire presented the Johnston Memorial Trophy for the first time, awarded for the best feat of air navigation in the British Empire. This trophy was in memory of the navigator of the airship R.101 destroyed over France. I became the first to receive this coveted trophy – for my navigation over the Tasman Sea. I doubt if I would have had it but for Geoffrey Goodwin, my partner in New Zealand, reading about it and proposing me. At that time few people in Britain knew of the Tasman Sea, and certainly no one had much interest in it. In those days, if I mentioned at a dinner that I was living in New Zealand, my neighbour would immediately lose interest in me. Later the pendulum swung, and British people began taking great interest in New Zealanders and Australians, but by then Britain had missed the bus, the Empire had turned into a Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth was already breaking up.
The Johnston Memorial Trophy was presented to me by the Prince of Wales, who became Edward VIII. Later it was awarded to Hinkler, Kingsford-Smith, Mollison and Don Bennett. Since then the terms of award have changed. First it became increasingly difficult to name a single navigator for it, and later it was difficult to name a single act of navigation by a team.