Obituary: Colin de Mowbray

Popular Falklands helicopter pilot who went on to organise round-the-world yacht races

Born: 12 April, 1945, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

Died: 11 July, 2010, in Lymington, Hampshire, aged 65.

Colin de Mowbray, who has died of a heart attack aged 65, was an Arbroath-trained Royal Navy helicopter pilot - a "junglie" who flew Royal Marines into and out of trouble - and a veteran of the Falklands war.

During that conflict, he was second-in-command of the frigate HMS Alacrity, which sank the Argentinian ammunition ship and minelayer Isla de los Estados and rescued 74 men from the Exocet-hit British supply ship Atlantic Conveyor.

In more peaceful times, however, de Mowbray became best known and much loved as an organiser and driving force behind the Clipper round-the-world yacht races.

As operations director for the races, he was due to have been at Hull marina last Saturday to welcome back the 10 yachts and crews taking part in the 2009-10 Clipper event, including Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, the first yacht sponsored and entered by the city, which could finish only ninth of ten.

His sudden death added more than a tinge of sadness to the joyous return of the 68-foot yachts and amateur crews who had set off from Hull on 13 September last year and circumnavigated the globe for 35,000 miles via La Rochelle, Rio, South Africa, Western Australia, Singapore, Quingdao in China, California, Panama, Jamaica, New York, Cape Breton Island and Cork.

The captain of Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, Matt Pike, said de Mowbray had been famed for meeting crews at as many ports as possible, even in the middle of the night and always with welcome cases of ice-cold beer. With an infectious schoolboy energy and wicked sense of fun, he often charmed his old Royal Navy buddies into giving the yachts a warship escort into port, himself waving from the warship's prow.

De Mowbray, who was descended from an old English family who fought on behalf of William the Conqueror during the Battle of Hastings in 1066, was one of the first captains to take part in the Clipper series conceived in 1995 by his lifelong friend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo around the world. He captained the yacht Chrysolite in the first-ever Clippers event in 1996, starting and finishing in Plymouth and coming in fourth.

In 1998, Knox-Johnston appointed him race director of the event, which involved choosing and organising the stopovers around the world, and he was in that role in 2000 when the yacht sponsored by the city of Glasgow, Glasgow Clipper, took part for the first time, though finishing last of eight.

Two years later, in 2002, Glasgow Clipper took part again, from Liverpool around the globe.

Steve Lightbody of Paisley, a 49-year-old community officer with Strathclyde police, recalls meeting de Mowbray before setting off on the round-the-world race as chef and mastman on the Glasgow Clipper: "He was a true gentleman. All I'd done was sail up the Caledonian canal with my dad and here I was, applying to sail around the world in the roughest oceans. But Colin said, ‘You'll be all right - unless, of course, you run into a hurricane in the Atlantic, in which case you have no chance of survival. Just so you know.'

"As it turned out, we did run into a hurricane in the North Atlantic off the US coast," Lightbody recalls. "We took his advice and hightailed it to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for refuge. When we eventually came to finish the race, sailing up the Mersey with 80,000 people lining the shores, there he was, up front of a Royal Navy destroyer, I think it was HMS Glasgow or Edinburgh, with a wide grin. I swear he was looking me straight in the eye as if to say: ‘You see, son. I told you could do it!'"

In 2005, de Mowbray moved from race director to operations director of the organiser, Clipper Ventures, a pivotal role that involved him even more in world travel, choosing or eliminating ports, smoothing diplomatic relations, ensuring the maximum safety and security of crews. Friends called him "the United Nations secretary-general of ocean racing".

Colin John de Mowbray was born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, a descendant of brothers Geoffrey and Roger de Monbrai, both of whom were involved in the Battle of Hastings on behalf of William the Conqueror in 1066.

The family would go on to provide Dukes of Norfolk and Earls of Northumberland. Colin, whose father was a Royal Navy captain and his mother, Louise, was from Ireland, attended Stowe School, Buckingham, before enlisting as an officer cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon, in September, 1963.

After training at the Royal Naval Air Station (now RM Condor) in Arbroath, de Mowbray found himself piloting Wessex helicopters which transported Royal Marines of 45 Commando and their equipment to places he was advised by his superiors to memorise then forget.

That's when he became known as a "junglie", a nickname won by RN pilots who transported what they called "bootnecks" (Royal Marines) into and out of the jungles of Borneo in the 1960s.

He later commanded 845 Squadron of the RN's Fleet Air Arm, based at Yeovilton, Somerset, before finding himself serving as First-Lieutenant, Executive Officer and therefore second-in-command of Alacrity, under Captain Chris Craig, en route to the Falklands.

Colin de Mowbray MBE is survived by his wife Vanessa, children Clare, Sarah and Ric, two granddaughters and the Clipper community around the globe. PHIL DAVISON