Chay Blyth

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Sir Charles Blyth

Born (1940-05-14) 14 May 1940 (age 78)
Occupation Sailor
Known forFirst person to sail single-handed non-stop westwards around the world

Sir Charles "Chay" Blyth CBE BEM (born 14 May 1940 [1] ) is a Scottish yachtsman and rower. He was the first person to sail single-handed non-stop westwards around the world (1971), on a 59-foot boat called British Steel .

The British Empire Medal is a British medal awarded for meritorious civil or military service worthy of recognition by the Crown. The current honour was created in 1922 to replace the original medal, which had been established in 1917 as part of the Order of the British Empire.

Yacht recreational boat or ship

A yacht is a watercraft used for pleasure or sports. The term originates from the Dutch word jacht, and was originally referencing light fast sailing vessels that the Dutch Republic navy used to pursue pirates and other transgressors around and into the shallow waters of the Low Countries. The yacht was popularized by Charles II of England as a pleasure or recreation vessel following his restoration in 1660.

British Steel is a 59 ft ketch famous for a circumnavigation of the globe "the wrong way" by Chay Blyth in 1970/71.


Early life

Blyth was born in Hawick, Roxburghshire. He joined the British Army Parachute Regiment when he was 18 and was promoted to Sergeant at the age of 21.

Hawick town in the Scottish Borders

Hawick is a town in the Scottish Borders council area and historic county of Roxburghshire in the east Southern Uplands of Scotland. It is 10.0 miles (16.1 km) south-west of Jedburgh and 8.9 miles (14.3 km) south-southeast of Selkirk. It is one of the farthest towns from the sea in Scotland, in the heart of Teviotdale, and the biggest town in the former county of Roxburghshire. Hawick's architecture is distinctive in that it has many sandstone buildings with slate roofs. The town is at the confluence of the Slitrig Water with the River Teviot. Hawick is known for its yearly Common Riding, for its rugby team Hawick Rugby Football Club and for its knitwear industry.

Roxburghshire Historic county in Scotland

Roxburghshire or the County of Roxburgh is a historic county and registration county in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. It borders Dumfriesshire to the west, Selkirkshire to the north-west, and Berwickshire to the north. To the south-west it borders Cumberland and to the south-east Northumberland, both in England.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

Rowing and sailing career

In 1966, whilst in the army, Blyth, together with Captain John Ridgway, rowed across the North Atlantic in a 20 ft open dory called English Rose III. After successfully completing this in 92 days, Blyth was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM).

John Ridgway MBE, is a British yachtsman and rower.


A dory is a small, shallow-draft boat, about 5 to 7 metres or 16 to 23 feet long. It is usually a lightweight boat with high sides, a flat bottom and sharp bows. They are easy to build because of their simple lines. For centuries, dories have been used as traditional fishing boats, both in coastal waters and in the open sea.

In 1968, with no sailing experience, he competed in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, aboard a 30 ft yacht called Dytiscus retiring just past the Cape of Good Hope. Author Peter Nichols wrote that, "Few people leaving a dock for an afternoon sail in a dinghy have cast off with less experience than Chay Blyth had when he set sail alone around the world". [2]

<i>Sunday Times</i> Golden Globe Race round-the-world yacht race held in 1968–1969

The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, held in 1968–1969, and was the first round-the-world yacht race. The race was controversial due to the failure of most competitors to finish the race and because of the suicide of one entrant; however, it ultimately led to the founding of the BOC Challenge and Vendée Globe round-the-world races, both of which continue to be successful and popular.

Cape of Good Hope Headland of Cape Peninsula, South Africa

The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.

In 1971, Blyth became the first person to sail non-stop westwards around the world, aboard the yacht British Steel , taking 292 days, and as a result was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Around the world sailing record

The first around the world sailing record for circumnavigation of the world was Juan Sebastián Elcano and the remaining members of Ferdinand Magellan's crew who completed their journey in 1522. The first solo record was set by Joshua Slocum in the Spray (1898).

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

In 1973, Blyth skippered a crew of paratroopers in the yacht Great Britain II, which took line honours in the 3rd stage of the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, and in 1978 won the Round Britain Race in the yacht Great Britain IV 1981 - Entered the Whitbread race again in the yacht “United Friendly” and was the first British yacht to finish.

1981 – On the yacht “Brittany Ferries GB” won the Two Handed Trans Atlantic Race with Co Skipper Rob James in record time. Came second again in the Round the Island Race (IoW).

1982 – Came second overall and first in class in The Round Britain and Ireland Race on “Brittany Ferries GB”.

1984 – Capsized off Cape Horn aboard the trimaran “Beefeater II” whilst attempting the New York – San Francisco record attempt with Eric Blunn. Rescued by passing fishing boat after 19 hours in the water.

He was co-skipper with Richard Branson on Virgin Atlantic Challenger I and Virgin Atlantic Challenger II in 1985 and 1986 respectively, before founding the Challenge Business to organise the 1992/1993 British Steel Challenge in 1989. This event allowed novices to sail around the world in a professionally organised race.

The British Steel Challenge was followed by two successive BT Global Challenge races in 1996/7 and 2000/2001. However, a downturn in the sponsorship market meant that the 2004/2005 Global Challenge race set off without a title sponsor.

Business career

Sir Chay started the company Challenge Business, to operate first the British Steel Challenge 199293 and then the Global Challenge Round the World yacht races. The success of the British Steel Challenge carved the way for the future success of the Global Challenge races.

Sir Chay is chairman of Inspiring Performance. He also heads the board of directors at train company First Great Western Greater Western franchise. He is non executive chairman of the franchise which was formed to run the new and enlarged franchise from 1 April 2006. The franchise combines the previous First Great Western, First Great Western Link and Wessex Trains franchises.

As chairman of Challenge Business, he was the mentor for Dee Caffari on her successful bid to be the first woman to sail around the world against the prevailing winds and currents in 2005–2006.

Awards and accolades

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  1. "Birthdays today". The Telegraph. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2014. Sir Chay Blyth, round–the–world yachtsman, 73
  2. Nichols, Peter (2001). A Voyage for Madmen. Harper Collins. p. 56. ISBN   0 7322 7592 X.