Stella Pickthall obituary

Other lives: ATS driver who sailed to New Zealand on a 47ft yacht in the 1950s

My mother, Stella Pickthall, who has died at the age of 92, was a determined woman who served in the army during the second world war and later embarked on a life-changing voyage from Britain to New Zealand.

Stella was born in Horley, Surrey, the eldest of 11 children born to Kathleen (nee Taylor) and George Copsey. She attended Horley Central mixed school, but much of her early life was spent supporting her parents in the raising of her eight brothers and two sisters, and helping on her father’s milk rounds.

In 1941 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service and became a driver, ferrying officers around the country on roads stripped of all signage. Her contribution to the war effort broadened her horizons and underlined her need for independence.

After the war, Stella moved to London to become a housekeeper in a West End hotel. She enjoyed London life and her work, mixing easily with people from a wide range of backgrounds. In 1956, not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to travel, she answered an advertisement in the Lady asking for another crew member to join Geoffrey Goodwin and his daughter Anthea on a voyage from Brixham, Devon, to Auckland, New Zealand. Stella had never sailed before, but won over the “skipper” with her determined practical approach, army training and enthusiasm for trying out new things.

The experience of travelling in a 47ft yacht with just three others (the fourth crew member was Jeremy Hewett) transformed her outlook on the world and instilled a passion for travel and seeking adventure. Her journey, aboard Makora, lasted 18 months, and required her not only to learn to sail, but also to take responsibility for keeping watch through the night, to catch fish to supplement the dried and tinned food, and to trap rain to ensure they did not run out of drinking water.

For the girl from Surrey, whose most adventurous activities while growing up included riding race horses on what is now a runway at Gatwick airport, the trip to New Zealand was an intense introduction to the thrill and danger of some of the world’s most demanding oceans. She forged a lifelong friendship with Anthea, who became an ornithologist and environmentalist. Many of the places Stella visited then, such as Tahiti or the Galápagos, were rarely visited in the late 1950s. In her late 30s, Stella turned her attentions to settling down and met my father, Thomas Pickthall, in 1961. The combination of Stella’s war service and her long voyage made for a wonderful story for her children and grandchildren to admire.

Stella is survived by her children, Carolyn and me, and grandchildren, Darius, Cyrus and Kurosh.

Antony Pickthall

The GuardianTramp

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