Michael Richey was born in Eastbourne, England, on July 6, 1917. Much of his childhood was spent abroad. For some years the family resided in Albania where his father, Col. George H.M. Richey, C.M.G., was Assistant Inspector General of the Albanian Gendarmerie (1925-1929). The latter's distinguished career in the military included service in British South Africa during conflicts such as the Boer War (1899-1902); and as a battalion commander in the Royal Fusiliers during World War I.
As a youth, Michael Richey attended a coeducational school in Switzerland, where he became fluent in French; and later, the Benedictine school at Downside Abbey in England. After graduation from Downside in 1935, Richey had planned to enter a monastery. Although the school was run by the Benedictines, Richey's inclinations were toward the Cistercians, which his parents opposed. He subsequently spent a short time as a potential postulant at the Trappist monastery on Caldey Island, where it was concluded that if he had a vocation he could return, although he never did.
During his years at Downside, Richey became interested in the work of English sculpto Eric Gill (1882-1940), having first been much impressed with a book by Gill on sculpture recommended by Dom Hubert Van Zeller, a monk in the community. When Dom Hubert left Downside to try his vocation as a Carthusian, he presented Richey with a number of his own works including a drawing for a crucifix which Richey hoped Gill might carve. He wrote to Gill proposing this idea, and reportedly received such a "courteous and charming" (Soames, 1984) reply that he became apprenticed to the sculptor after leaving Downside.
For three years, Richey resided at Gill’s farmhouse at Pigotts, working with Gill and his group of talented young artists, some of whom would become Richey's closest lifelong friends. The group included Rene Hague (married to Gill's daughter Joan), David Jones, Walter Shewring, and Denis Tegetmeier (married to Gill's daughter Petra).
Shortly after leaving Downside, Richey was also introduced to Evelyn Waugh and Bernard Wall, by Dom Ralph Russell, another monk in the community. In one of the annotations to this collection, Richey recalls the event: "...I can't quite remember the circumstances. Waugh gave me a drink at St. James's Club in London and was noticeably solicitous, but I don't think either of us saw much point in the meeting. Bernard Wall on the other hand, just back from his honeymoon with Barbara, nee Lucas, (on which he had been accompanied by Tom Burns and Rene Hague) was more positive. He was then editing the "Colosseum," an intellectual Catholic quarterly review, and Barbara much engaged with the "Catholic Worker," a new radical paper founded along the lines of its American counterpart (but without the presiding genius of Dorothy Day). It must have been through the Walls that I first met Tom Burns who, with Harman Grisewood, Rene Hague, and David Jones and one or two others were to remain lifelong friends. During this period I was living at my parents' house in Cadogan Square in London but spent most of my time helping Bernard and Barbara, largely with the ‘Catholic Worker,’ at 4 Garrick Street..." (from annotation to the collection by Richey, August 28, 1995).
At the outbreak of the World War II, in 1939, Richey had been working independently of Gill for a year or so. His inclinations were pacifist but he settled for minesweeping. A friend, Lewis Ritchie, then a retired paymaster captain in the Royal Navy, assisted Richey in obtaining an assignment in the Royal Naval Patrol Service on board the HMS Goodwill. After the ship was blown up in 1940, Richey completed officer training and was commissioned. He served at sea for almost the entire war on eight or nine ships, primarily in the Western Approaches, including a spell with the Free French Navy. Richey also served a year in an armed merchant cruiser in the South Atlantic. He reminisced in an article by Strahan Soames (in "Yachts and Yachting," December 15, 1984): "...This is where my taste for astro-navigation began, because there was nothing else to do. I got myself appointed assistant navigator, and took stars morning, noon and night for about a year." Richey subsequently took the long navigation course at the shore station HMS Dryad to become a specialist navigator.
After leaving the navy in 1946, Richey delivered an ex-naval craft from Gibraltar to Oslo, recalling: "...I realized in Oslo with great sadness that it might be the last time I would use a sextant; so I determined to try and get back into the navigation business..." (Soames, 1984). On his return, Richey was approached by a committee formed to establish the (later, Royal) Institute of Navigation, to head the new organization which held its inaugural meeting on March 12, 1947. The following year, Richey founded the "Journal of Navigation," and was its editor until 1985.
Richey's passion for the sea dates from youth, but he told Strahan Soames that, "...It was reluctance to give up navigation rather than a desire to sail...I still find sailing less interesting than navigating..." (Soames, 1984). After the war, Richey was drawn to ocean racing, particularly as there was a demand for former service navigators in this field. He began auspiciously as navigator for Sir Myles Wyatt, and quickly earned a reputation for his skills, which placed him in demand for many ocean races. In 1965, at the urging of his friend, Sir Francis Chichester, Richey bought his own engine-less junk rigged boat, the "Jester." The following year, he took the boat on a trial solo expedition to the Azores. The "Jester" would run fourteen single-handed transatlantic races, before Richey had to abandon ship during a storm on July 15, 1988. He wrote of this last voyage in an article for the "Journal of Navigation," entitled, "The Last Transatlantic." Articles about the "Jester" written by Richey for the "Journal of Navigation," include, "Jester's Transatlantic Passage, 1968"; "Windward Passage"; "The Troublesome Voyage"; "Jester's Ultimate Storm"; "Catharsis"; and "A Voyage of Navigational Investigation."
Other writings by Richey include an article about his experiences during the war when the minesweeper, HMS Goodwill was sunk. Entitled, "Sunk by a Mine," the piece could not be published in Britain because of censorship concerns; however Sylvia Lucas, sister of Barbara Wall, was able to get it published in the "New York Times Magazine" (May 11, 1941). The article was later awarded the Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for Literature. In 1962, Richey wrote a book with E.G.R. Taylor, entitled, "The Geometrical Seaman," published by Hollis and Carter, later owned by the Bodley Head with Graham Greene as director. At Greene's recommendation, Richey was to become editor of the nautical series published by the Bodley Head. He also edited "The Sailing Encyclopedia," (New York: Lippicott & Crowell, 1980, first U.S. edition).
In 1979, Richey was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of Navigation. He is an honorary member of the American, Arab, French, German, and Japanese institutes of navigation and has served as president of the International Association of Institutes of Navigation. Richey has also been honored by the American Institute of Navigation with the Superior Achievement Award, as well as by the French Institute of Navigation with the Medaille d'Honneur. In 1986, he was awarded the Seamanship Medal of the Royal Cruising Club, and in 1993, the Ocean Cruising Club's Award of Merit.
A replica of the original "Jester" was built for the Jester Trust in 1992 and Richey sailed the boat in the single-handed transatlantic race that year, returning to England the following year. In 1996 he made his twelfth single-handed transatlantic crossing. Michael Richey currently resides in Brighton.
Richey, Michael. "Jester's Transatlantic Passage, 1968," in "The Journal of Navigation," January 1969.
---- "Windward Passage," in "The Journal of Navigation," 1985.
---- "The Last Transatlantic," in "The Journal of Navigation," c.1988.
----Annotations to the Michael Richey papers, Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Washington, D.C., 1995-96.
Soames, Strahan. "Mike Richey," in "Yachts and Yachting," December 15, 1984.