A look back at the sailing life of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh
HRH THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH, 1921-2021
The death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, just a few weeks before his 100th birthday, made headlines around the world in April. Tributes referred to his decades of public service, and to his sporting prowess, including cricket, shooting and carriage driving. However, Prince Philip was also a skilled and passionate sailor, who maintained strong connections with the sport throughout his lifetime.
A graduate of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where he was named ‘best cadet’, Philip became midshipman aboard HMS Valiant during World War II. By 1950 he’d been promoted to lieutenant commander and took command of the frigate HMS Magpie. He retired from the Navy shortly afterwards to support Queen Elizabeth as consort, but continued to nurture his enthusiasm for sailing, which began when he learned to sail as a boy at Gordonstoun school.
The Duke was a regular presence at Cowes Week for almost seven decades, not only on the Royal Yacht Britannia but competing in the Flying Fifteen and Dragon classes, often with famed local designer Uffa Fox.
He also raced with Prince Charles in the Dragon class keelboat Bluebottle, which was a gift to The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh on their marriage from the Island Sailing Club in Cowes, and a series of yachts called Yeoman. In the 1960s both Charles and Anne accompanied Philip on cruising holidays aboard the 63ft
Camper & Nicholsons design Bloodhound.
The Duke’s many official responsibilities included roles as Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and twice as President of the RYA, as well as being Royal Patron of the International Association of Cape Horners and the Whitbread Round the World Race. He is credited with being instrumental in the creation of Cowes Combined Clubs, the organisation that runs Cowes Week, and of modernising the RYS.
The competition and informality of sailing clearly appealed to the Duke. One apocryphal story goes that when another competitor called for water at a mark, Philip replied “It’s my wife’s water, and I’ll do as I **** ing well please!”
However, he was also highly knowledgeable. British America’s Cup sailor David ‘Freddie’ Carr recalls meeting the Duke and discussing the technological developments of the foiling Cup boats. “He was very well informed about sailing and the America’s Cup, and he was really into foiling. He would tell stories about how he and Uffa Fox had talked about flying boats when sailing their Flying Fifteen 50 years ago!
“I also met him at the America’s Cup World Series in 2016, when he offered some words of support from the chase boat, and was very pleased to point out that our boat was crewed by a wholly British crew! He was a great supporter of British sailing and will be greatly missed.”