When the boat comes in...

Tom Blasson, secretary of the Ribble Cruising Club, was the first person to shake Lieut Commander Eric Sumner by the hand, as he stepped ashore from Francette at Lytham Creek on his return from the journey to the United States

What about this for a warm welcome? More than 40 years ago, crowds lined the Lytham foreshore to salute the courage of Lt-Cdr Eric Sumner, whose 7,000-mile sailing feat to America and back in his boat Francette had captured the imagination of Fylde folk.

He had set off 126 days earlier from the same creek, at the mouth of the River Ribble, to compete in the trans-Atlantic yacht race.

Crowds line the side of the bank at the entrance to Lytham Creek, waving and cheering to greet Lt Cdr Sumner, in 1972

The Warton yachtsman was officially welcomed back by the Mayor of Lytham St Annes, Coun Jack Shepherd, before holding an impromptu press conference. But he had to dash off to see the one person who was unable to share his triumphant homecoming – his mother Mary, who was ill in hospital.

The 38-year-old sailor and his crew mate, Sub-Lieut Peter Henery, of Ribbleton, Preston, smiled and waved to the waiting crowd.

Sub-Lieut Henery had joined the boat for the return journey. The first person to greet Mr Sumner as he stepped ashore was Tom Blasson, secretary of Ribble Cruising Club, where he was a member.

Lt-Cdr Sumner said it had been “hard work”. Sipping champagne he had bought in America specially for the occasion, he told reporters how he had battled with a broke rudder and mast.

People lined the dock at Lytham to watch the return of Francette

“The rudder was badly damaged only about 100 miles after leaving Newport, Rhodes Island. We lost most of it, but there was just enough to give us steerage.”

Barnacles had posed a problem too, slowing the boat down and the boat had to put into Northern Ireland to scrap them off.

And Francette had been hit by fierce gales off the west coast of Ireland which knocked her almost flat. The two men were tucking into a meal of rice and vermicelli at the time – and kept finding rice all over the boat for days. Mr Sumner had given up his job as a computer salesman to allow him to ‑time preparing for the trip.

He said he would not rule out making the epic voyage again – but perhaps in a bigger boat.

Eric Sumner's boat, Francette

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