It's never too late to learn! Here is YBW's pick of five sailors who took to the high seas with little or no relevant experience for the voyage ahead

Chay Blyth

Chay Blyth

Credit: Getty Images/Central Press

With no sailing experience, Chay Blyth decided to compete in the 1968-69 Sunday Time’s Golden Globe Race.

The 27-year-old only made it just past the Cape of Good Hope on board his 30-foot yacht, Dytiscus III before retiring.

In storm force 10-11, the fibreglass twin-keeled yacht broached (Blyth admitted he had no idea what broaching was until he read one of Sir Francis Chichester’s books later), repeatedly breaking the self-steering gear.

The yacht was also knocked down three times before Blyth decided to retire.

Blyth wasn’t completely without experience on the high seas.

In 1966 whilst in the Army, he teamed up with fellow paratrooper Captain John Ridgway to row across the North Atlantic in English Rose II.

They completed the voyage in the 20-foot open dory in 92 days.

Interestingly, Ridgeway also entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race on board his 30-foot twin-keeled fibreglass, English Rose IV.

He was the first to start but retired six weeks later due to a bulging deck which threatened the integrity of the yacht’s mast.

Ridgeway wrote about both adventures in Journey to Ardmore.

Blyth’s Golden Globe experience failed to put him off sailing.

Just a few years later in 1971, Blyth became the first person to sail non-stop westward around the world on board the 59-foot British Steel.

He went on to compete in the 1973 and 1981 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, won the Two Handed Trans Atlantic Race with co-skipper Rob James in record time in 1981, and came first in class in the 1982 The Round Britain and Ireland Race.

Blyth was also behind The British Steel Challenge and BT Global Challenge.

His Golden Globe exploits are charted in Innocent Aboard, the book Blyth co-wrote with his wife, Maureen.


Naomi James

Dame Naomi James

Credit: Chris Moorhouse/Getty Images

It was while waiting for her future husband, Rob James to return from the Atlantic Triangle Race that Naomi James decided she would sail single-handed around the world.

At the time, she had just a few months of sailing experience, having helped run charters with James on board Chay Blyth’s British Steel in France. Interestingly the New Zealand born former hairdresser only learnt to swim age 23!

After finding sponsorship, and with the loan of Blyth’s yacht, Spirit of Cutty Sark (renamed Express Crusader), James embarked on her round the world voyage on 9 September 1977.

This was despite the fact that she had never handled a boat by herself before.

James made history 272 days later by becoming the first woman to sail single-handed around the world via Cape Horn – and in the fastest time ever.

James later admitted that her sailing skills were far from perfect but she held her nerve, despite a knockdown in a storm.

For her record breaking feat, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in January 1979.

She also wrote about the voyage in At One with the Sea: Alone Around the World.

In 1980, despite still being uncertain about her navigational skills, she entered the OSTAR on Kriter Lady, competing against her husband.

She was the only woman to finish and broke the course record for women by more than three days.

Dame Naomi and her husband went on to win the 1982 Around Britain Race on board their catamaran, Colt Cars. She hasn’t sailed since.

Continued below…

Eric and Susan Hiscock

Top 10 yacht pioneers

YBW's list of the top 10 yacht pioneers in the last 100 years. Who do you think should be on…

Kay Cottee

13 Top female sailors

Here's our pick of some of the most inspiring yachtswomen. Who's your inspiration?

5 things in your pocket

5 things in your pocket

Find out what Ellen MacArthur, Helena Lucas and Dee Caffari always have on them! YBW asked professional and amateur sailors…


Robert Manry

Robert Manry arrives in Falmouth, Cornwall on Tinkerbelle

Credit: Getty Images/Bettmann

American copy editor Robert Manry had mainly sailed the family sailing boat, Tinkerbelle, in the Great Lakes.

But that didn’t put him off from taking the 13.5-foot heavily modified Old Town across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, between June-August 1965.

At the time, Tinkerbelle was the shortest boat to make the trip.

Manry, who was a copy editor by profession, had previously sailed on rivers and lakes.

He had talked about a Trans-Atlantic trip on a friend’s yacht during the summer of 1964 before setting out on Tink, as the boat was affectionately known.

He decided that Tinkerbelle was up to the voyage from Falmouth in Massachusetts to the Cornish port of Falmouth after he completed a 200-mile shake-down voyage in 1964 with his 10-year-old son.

The trip took them across Lake Erie to Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada.

His incredible voyage from the USA to England had a huge impact on his life, and he wrote a book about it, called Tinkerbelle, which brought him legions of fans.

In 1967, Manry and his wife, Virginia, along with his two children and family pets, started a year-long circumnavigate of the eastern United States on board their Tartan 27, Curlew.

Top 10 Yacht Pioneers


Ann Davison

Ann Davison the first woman to single-handedly sail the Atlantic Ocean

Credit: Getty Images/Keystone

Despite being a poor navigator, Ann Davison still managed to become the first woman to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean.

She set off from Plymouth in her 23-foot wooden sloop, Felicity Ann on 3 December 1952.

She had little sailing experience, and, in the days before GPS, it seems unthinkable that she was unable to use a sextant (she taught herself along the way).

Her voyage was not without its trials – she almost sank in the English Channel because of clogged bilge pumps (she admitted she never thought about cleaning them out) and had to be towed to France for repairs.

She also endured severe doldrum conditions in the Atlantic.

Her crossing was slow, and she eventually made it to the Caribbean on the verge of exhaustion, before continuing to New York.

She arrived in June 1953 and entered the history books.

Amazingly, this was not Davison’s first incredible journey.

In 1948, she set out with her husband, Frank, in their 70′ ketch, Reliance, in an effort to escape debt and the creditors and start a new life abroad.

They decided to head for Cuba, but the couple’s lack of experience and bad weather resulted in the Reliance being shipwrecked off the Dorset coast in a Force 7 storm.

Frank died and Ann barely survived. She was washed up at the foot of a cliff after spending hours adrift in a life raft.

Davison wrote about her record breaking Atlantic voyage in the 1956 book, My Ship is so Small.

Her earlier book, Last Voyage, charts the tragedy of Reliance.


Top 11 female sailors


Miles and Beryl Smeeton

Miles Smeeton and his daughter, Clio

Miles Smeeton and his daughter, Clio. Credit: You Tube

Knowing almost nothing about boats or sailing failed to dissuade adventurers Miles and Beryl Smeeton from their voyage from England to British Colombia via the Panama Canal.

The couple originally bought Tzu Hang as a way to get money out of England during the currency-export regulations imposed after the Second World War.

They found the 46-foot hulled ketch in Dover Harbour.

Even Charles Nicholson, who had Tzu Hang on his books, was concerned about the couple’s plans, writing to them saying he was extremely worried “about two such inexperienced people setting out on such as ambitious cruise”.

However, they were not put off, and were lucky enough to be taught some rudiments of sailing by seasoned cruising couple Peter and Anne Pye, learning in the Thames Estuary and the North Sea.

They also sailed to Holland, and as Miles Smeeton noted in his book, The Sea was our Village, their text book was Cruising Under Sail by Eric Hiscock, who Smeeton described as a “blue water Mao” (referring to China’s Chairman Mao Zedong).

The Smeetons, along with their young daughter, Clio, sailed from Fowey in Cornwall in May 1951.

As well as trying to smuggle their money out of the country via the ketch, Beryl Smeeton had also bought two diamond rings which she hid on board (the story inspired the novelist and the Smeeton’s friend Nevil Shute to write Trustee from the Toolroom).

They reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca by June 1952.

Ironically, the Smeetons decided not to sell  Tzu Hang, which had originally been built in Hong Kong and shipped to the UK in 1939 by Col. Denis Swinburne.

Instead, they continued sailing the HS Rouse designed ketch, famously dismasting on two occasions while trying to round Cape Horn – a tale told in Once in Enough.

Miles Smeeton’s feat in sailing the almost wrecked vessel back to port brought him acclaim.