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'Some of his stories beggar belief' – tributes to world conquering Lymington sailing legend Les Powles

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A LYMINGTON sailor who voyaged single-handily around the world three times has died at the age of 96.

Les Powles, who lived on a boat in the town’s marina, made international headlines with his adventures.

The former engineer spent his life savings of £7,000 building the 34ft Bruce Roberts with his own hands before setting off on his first voyage in 1975 – with little more than a week of sailing under his belt.

Les celebrating his 90th birthday at Lymington Yacht Haven (photo: Mark Redpath)
Les celebrating his 90th birthday at Lymington Yacht Haven (photo: Mark Redpath)

Les set out for Barbados but got lost and ended up in Brazil. Undeterred, he had another go three years later.

His second trip in 1980 was more successful and he managed to circumnavigate the world, without a radio, in 329 days.

In the final days he survived on rainwater, rice and a tiny amount of mince – which soon ran out.

Les recounted the voyage home in his book, saying: “It’s going to be a bad night. All I have left now is half a cup of rice.

“Soon I’d be with parents and friends. I thought, may they please feed me with anything but rice – bloody rice.”

Much to his surprise, Les was awarded Yachtsman of the Year following the trip. He was later made an honorary member of the Ocean Cruising Club.

He set out on his final circumnavigation in 1988, returning seven years later, during which he was badly injured.

Unconscious for six hours, he lost a lot of blood but survived by tying himself to the mast and taking painkillers washed down with a “drop of whisky”.

There had been no contact with him for six months and he was feared dead at sea.

Les's yacht Solitaire, aboard which he circumnavigated the world three times (photo: Mark Redpath)
Les's yacht Solitaire, aboard which he circumnavigated the world three times (photo: Mark Redpath)

A friend greeted him at Lymington harbour, saying: “Where the hell have you been?”

Les once said his love of solo sailing was down to the “solitude”, adding: “When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about.”

To honour his remarkable efforts, Les was given a free sailing berth for life at Lymington Yacht Haven where he lived on board his vessel, Solitaire.

At the age of 96 he suffered a stroke and moved into Belmore Lodge nursing home in the town.

Once asked if he missed the open sea, he replied, “I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve got.”

Becki Jackson, office manager at the yacht haven, said: “Les was a kind-hearted gentleman and extremely generous with his time. He would frequently invite friends and visitors on board his beloved yacht, Solitaire, and recount his tales from his three circumnavigation.

“Some of his stories beggar belief but they are a testament to his natural sailing ability and his determination in the face of adversity.

“His popularity and story resonated worldwide. His book, Solitaire Spirit, helped spread his story all around the world, and he continued to receive letters from those he has inspired to discover a life of sailing and adventure.

“Les was an extremely popular character around Lymington and, for over five decades, he has truly been a part of the yacht haven family.

“He will be missed by yacht haven’s staff and the community he leaves behind within the marina. “

His funeral will be on Tuesday 15th March at Romsey crematorium followed by a wake at Lymington Town Sailing Club at 2.30pm. All are welcome to attend.

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