Les Williams, one of sailing's pioneering mavericks from the 1960s - 1980s passed away in late January.

During his Royal Navy days, Les Williams was charged with forming and organising the training programmes at the Joint Services Sailing Centre (JSSC) at Hasler, Gosport.

He first came to fame with his fourth placed finish in the 1968 OSTAR with his 53ft Spirit of Cutty Sark – a yacht he later sold to Chay Blyth.

Sir Chay Blyth said: “As a young Lt in the Navy, Les was one of the prime movers in starting the Joint Services Sailing Centre (JSSC) in Gosport.

“Les finished a very creditable fourth in the 1968 Single Handed Transatlantic Race sailing Gallant 54 named Spirit of Cutty Sark.

“The yacht he competed in the first Whitbread Round the World race skippered the 80ft maxi Burton Cutter.

“A young Peter Blake was his number 2 on board.

“The big moment for Les was opening up a new route after the Equator.

“Instead of going down the side of South America he showed it was possible to sail close hauled through the South East Trade Winds which won him the first leg of the race.”

Les Williams, one of sailing’s pioneering mavericks from the 1960s to 1980s. Credit: PPL Photo Agency

Les Williams. Credit: PPL Photo Agency

“Crews adored him”

Sir Chay added: “Les was unassuming and very happy to stay in the background.

“As a leader, he always generated great camaraderie onboard and crews adored him.”

Together with Robin Knox-Johnson, Les won the 1970 Round Britain and Ireland Race aboard the 71ft monohull Ocean Spirit.

The two went on to co-skipper Ocean Spirit in the first Cape Rio Race, winning the race on elapsed time.

Les skippered the 80ft maxi Burton Cutter in the first Whitbread Race in 1973, winning the first leg by more than a day after pioneering the windward route parallel to the African coast, rather than following the traditional clipper ship route close to Brazil skirting the South Atlantic High.

Peter Blake and David Alan-Williams were among the crew.

He and Sir Robin also co-skippered the 76ft maxi Heath’s Condor during the 1977/8 Whitbread, but dismasted during the first leg.

Les returned for the 1981/2 Whitbread with the 80ft maxi FCF Challenger which was dismasted during the last leg.

“Very happy memories”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said: “Les Williams and I sailed together over seven years from 1971 to 1978.

“We won the 1970 two handed Round Britain Race, achieved line honours in the first Cape town to Rio Race and then shared skippering Heath’s Condor in the 1977/8 Whitbread Round the World Race.

“Prior to that he had come fourth in the 1968 OSTAR.

“An agreeable companion, good seaman and excellent sailor, he has left me some very happy memories.”