Sunday 7 January 2007

The Islander

I’ve been dipping into Harry Pidgeon’s account of his first circumnavigation: “Around the World Single-Handed” subtitled The Cruise of the Islander.

The Islander was a 34ft yawl which Harry built, from a plan drawn by Captain Thomas Fleming Day, using the booklet How to Build a Cruising Yawl as his guide.

In 1917 he set to work hewing out the keel timbers on a vacant lot by Los Angeles Harbour. He used Douglas fir and Oregon pine and bent the 2½ inch by 7½ inch planks into place alone and without a steam box. A carpenter from a nearby boat works said to him, “I know how we would put those planks on at the shop, where we have a steam box and plenty of help, but how you got them on I can’t see.” The boat took a year and a half to build and as Harry said, “From the laying down of the keel to the launching the Islander came near to being entirely the work of my own hands.” It cost him $1000.

The Islander was 34ft by 10ft 9 inches and drew 5 ft empty, she carried 630 square feet of cloth in three sails, Harry didn’t install a motor feeling that, “ the real sport is to make the elements take one where he wants to go.” And go he did. First to Hawaii and back to Los Angeles where he made such changes to the rigging “as experience suggested.” And then on to the Marquesas and around the world.

He was obviously a very efficient worker, either that or time went more slowly in the 20’s; while getting ready for his journey to the Marquesas he comments, “I made a sea anchor out of canvas, and still having time on my hands I made a new suit of sails.”

A seaworthy vessel the Islander took storms, gales and a near catastrophic grounding off South Africa in her stride. Eventually bringing Harry back to LA back in 1923 making him the second person to circumnavigate single-handed after Slocum. Ten years later he took off on another circumnavigation in the Islander and, in 1947 ten years after returning he set off for a third, this time with his wife. Harry was 73. They sailed from Los Angeles to Hawaii and then ran into dire weather on the 67day passage to the New Hebrides where they stopped for repairs. But while anchored a typhoon struck and the Islander was driven onto rocks and destroyed.

Harry and his wife returned to California and the first thing he did was build another yawl, a 26ft Sea Bird again designed by Thomas Flemming Day.

I love that kind of irrepressibility.

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