Seven Seas on a Shoe-String was first published in 1939. It was written by Dwight Long, an adventurer from Seattle. He bought his first boat at age 7 using funds saved up from delivering newspapers. As he puts it “…she leaked like a sieve, but she was all mine!”. Recognizing the small vessel’s limitations, he patched her up, painted her and sold her at a profit.
Over the next 10 years, this process repeated itself – buying, upgrading and selling bigger and bigger boats, always at a profit. Of course he used those boats as well. He sailed the rich cruising grounds in the channels, inlets and islands throughout the Seattle and Vancouver areas.
As the age for enrolling in college approached, he did slow down his boat arbitrage business in order to save for school. He enrolled at the University of Washington with no particular direction yet in mind. He started a landscape business while in school and ended up with 6 employees and more work than he could handle.
Around that time, he read an article about Alain Gerbault, a former French tennis star and famous single-handed sailor. He read how Gerbault “hid” in the South Seas “to be free from grey skies, heartaches, artificiality and future anxieties” (anything sound familiar here?). That was a turning point.
He began focusing almost exclusively on his dream of buying a boat and sailing her to the South Pacific Islands. The landscaping business and school took a back seat. For 6 months he searched up and down the west coast between Juneau, Alaska and San Francisco looking for the right boat. As luck would have it, he finally found Idle Hour moored right there in Seattle.
Idle Hour was a 32′ wooden ketch in need of work but fundamentally sound. Although the boat was not actually for sale, he tracked down the owner and began the persuasion and negotiation to purchase Idle Hour. In the end, he was successful and had his world cruiser all for the princely sum of $1,600. There is big lesson there for potential boat buyers. Don’t limit your search to what “is currently” for sale. Remember that pretty much everything is for sale and your ideal vessel may not yet be advertised. I’ve started using that technique for sailboat equipment as I browse through various boatyards.
Anyway, that’s where the story begins. I’ll write an update when I finish the book.
UPDATE: Not quite finished with Seven Seas on a Shoestring yet, but I can tell you if you enjoy learning about the pioneers of bluewater sailing on small boats, this is an excellent place to start. The author is an accomplished writer and very interesting man. I won’t give it away but I will say that when you were sailing around the world in the early to mid 1900’s, you were a celebrity everywhere you went (almost everywhere). The seamanship and accomplishments of sailors of that era cannot be overstated. No electronics, frequently no engine, very basic jury-rigged self-steering and no hope of rescue if things turned out bad. No GPS. Sextant only. And reduction tables (HO 214 if memory serves).
Now the reason I haven’t finished Seven Seas on a Shoestring yet is because I picked up another book called Flying Cloud. It is the story of the famous clipper ship setting the New York to San Francisco record in 1854. I finished that one yesterday. The story is unique for a couple reasons. First, the record speed of the voyage 89 days 8 hours, second, the navigator was a woman Elanor Creesy, (the captains wife) and third, Mrs. Creesy relied heavily on the first maritime manual published about prevailing winds and currents in different parts of the ocean at different times of year. This was not just a “lucky” trip. Flying Cloud was sailed with great tactical precision by Mrs. Creesy. She relied heavily on Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s newly published guides to prevailing ocean winds and currents worldwide. She expertly used the knowledge to take advantage of favorable winds and currents, noting that on the ocean, the fastest distance between 2 ports is rarely a straight line. The New York to San Francisco record probably would not have been set without Lieut. Maury’s research and Mrs. Cressy’s navigation expertise.
UPDATE #2: Finished Seven Seas on a Shoestring. The rest of the book was great with a lot of good stories, interesting people and places visited, some mishaps and some downright life threatening situations. But that’s why we sail, right? I can highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the considerable challenges single-handed and short-handed sailors of the early 1900’s faced daily. They were truly a different breed of sailor.