IT IS a rare opportunity to step aboard a record breaker.

Gipsy Moth IV is the Hampshire-based boat in which the legendary Sir Francis Chichester became the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe.

The 54ft ketch has returned to Buckler's Hard to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the start of his epic voyage.

Gipsy Moth IV is open to the public today with visitors to the 18th century shipbuilding village able to walk her deck as well as inspecting her cramped interior.

Celebrations began yesterday with a guest appearance by Sir Francis's son, former MEP Giles Chichester, 70.

He revealed that his father almost had to abandon the round-the-world trip after the boat's steering mechanism broke, but managed to devise a solution and went on to earn his place in the record books.

Giles presented Lord Montagu of Beaulieu with a Royal Yacht Squadron flag that flew from Gipsy Moth IV throughout her voyage.

Known as a burgee, the flag will be displayed in the maritime museum at Buckler's Hard alongside other items relating to the 29,630-mile journey.

Lord Montagu said: "Sir Francis was a big celebrity in his day. Some of today's young people may not have heard of him, but this will help keep his name alive."

Guests included Eileen Skinner and Rob Thompson, who bought Gipsy Moth IV and donated her to the Gipsy Moth Trust.

Eileen said: "A lot of money has been spent on the boat over the past five years and she's in very good shape."

Bill Grindey, 82, of Dibden Purlieu, was the local harbourmaster when Sir Francis set out on his 13-month adventure, which included a 107-day stopover in Sydney, Australia.

Bill praised the huge amount of restoration work carried out on the Gosport-built yacht, which is currently based in Cowes.

"Sir Francis would be really proud of her if he could see her today," he said.

Also there was David Martin, 70, of Lymington, whose mother, Rhoda Martin, was the local shopkeeper and supplied Sir Francis with most of his food for the voyage.

Mrs Martin, who died in 2004 aged 91, preserved his eggs by covering the shells in liquid paraffin and also de-eyed hundreds of potatoes to prevent them from sprouting.

Gipsy Moth IV left Buckler's Hard on August 12 1966 and underwent trials in the Solent before officially starting her voyage from Plymouth on August 27.

Photos by Chris Moorhouse