Rear Admiral Charles Bernard Williams, CB, OBE died peacefully on June 11, 2015, aged 90. He was the Chairman of the Race Committee for The Whitbread Round the World Race from 1981 to 1990.
Here Barry Pickthall remembers his old friend and adversary.
“I have just learned that my old adversary, Rear Admiral Charles Williams, died on June 11 aged 90. Charles was Chairman of the Race Committee for The Whitbread Round The World Race from 1981 to 1990 and we crossed swords several times over my race commentary in The Times.
“Before the 1989-90 Race, he introduced a rule stating that boats that did not finish with the same complement of crew as they started, would be disqualified. Always honest, he told me that the race had become so professional, that they could not be sure that crews would stop and make a thorough search if there was a man-overboard incident.
“The article caused an outcry and led to London Times newspaper commissioning aeronautical scientists at Farnborough, UK, to develop a man-overboard tracking system, which later, in the 1989-90 Race, helped John Chittenden and his Creighton’s Naturally team to locate and recover two crewmembers, who went overboard in the first Southern Ocean leg.
“Bart van den Dwey was successfully resuscitated within 10 minutes, but Tony Philips, who had hit a stanchion as he went overboard, never recovered consciousness and was buried at sea.
“We did the first tests in Portland Race, Weymouth, UK, with Robin Knox-Johnston as the floating guinea pig. We lost sight of him almost immediately, but the homing device fitted on the Weymouth lifeboat, tracked Robin’s progress throughout, and we were there to fish him out at the other end.
“What would Health and Safety say about that nowadays? Charles had to admit that the system worked well and rewrote the rule to include the kit on every yacht.
“Charles was also Chairman of the Astrid Trust, which converted an old coaster into a sail training ship.
“Considering the literal lashings I gave him over the years in The Times, we remained good friends.”
PHOTO: ©1982 PPL Photo Agency / Barry Pickthall - 1981-82 Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race Alain Gabbay (left), skipper of Charles Heidsieck III welcomed to Mar del Plata by Rear Admiral Charles Williams (right)