Tributes for Olympic diver and Atlantic sailor Denise St Aubyn Hubbard

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard in Bosham, where she lived for nearly 60 years
Denise St Aubyn Hubbard in Bosham, where she lived for nearly 60 years

An Olympic diver from Bosham who went on to become the oldest woman to sail single-handedly across the Atlantic has died aged 91.

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard was a translator at Bletchley Park during the war before she competed as a high diver in the 1948 London Olympics.

Ahead of sailing single-handed across the Atlantic in 1988 aged 64

Ahead of sailing single-handed across the Atlantic in 1988 aged 64

She moved to Bosham with her young family in 1955 and learned to sail around Chichester Harbour, joining the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service in 1970 where she was the only woman skipper.

She lived in Bosham for nearly 60 years and died on January 22. Her funeral service is due to be held in the village today (Wednesday, February 17).

Her two children, Geraldine Dawson and Hugh St Aubyn Hubbard, this week paid tribute to her.

Geraldine said: “She was great fun, full of energy. Nothing was done slowly, we had to run to keep up with her when we were small.

Diving in the 1948 Olympics in London

Diving in the 1948 Olympics in London

“She had a great sense that when something needed to be done she just got on with it.

“She was a natural athlete, although she was known for her swimming and diving she was very good at athletics.”

Hugh added: “She was extremely modest and had a great capacity for hard work.

“She loved learning a skill and had a great appreciation for those who were very skilled at something.”

Born Denise Newman on February 19, 1924 in London, she spent her early years living in Egypt, where she was first taught to dive by her mother. A talented swimmer, at the age of 13 she broke junior records at the 1937 Egyptian championships.

After returning to England she was due to swim in the 1940 Olympics before war broke out.

Denise joined up in 1943. Following an interview at the Foreign Office, and already being fluent in French and Arabic, she completed a two-and-a-half year Japanese course in just six months and worked at Bletchley Park in the Japanese cipher section.

Denise got her chance to compete at the 1948 Olympics, though she was hampered by cramped sleeping conditions and rigid training.

Speaking to the Observer before the 2012 Games, Denise remembered: “It was difficult to get to sleep at night and we had to get up very early to go to the pool to use it before the swimmers did. “We were over-trained. We had all new coaches and they wouldn’t let us use our normal coaches.”

She tore her shoulder while competing and had to complete her remaining dives with only one movable arm, finishing in 11th place.

The family moved to Chichester in 1953 and then Bosham two years later and it was sailing, rather than diving, which began to take over her life.

After gaining qualifications in seamanship and navigation in Southampton, she taught at Chichester College and then at her own home.

She eventually sailed round the British Isles in her friend Andrew Reed’s boat Pintail.

She served in the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service for 19 years and was the only woman skipper for eight years.

In 1988, aged 64, she sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic, in a yacht named Flying Light, from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island.

She overcame a failed navigational system in the final 24 hours and on completing the voyage was quoted as saying: “I’m not someone who likes going backward.”

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