Please select your home edition
Edition
ETNZ Black-Friday-728x90 TOP

Celebrating Marvin Creamer's uniquely ambitious circumnavigation

by David Schmidt 25 Aug 08:00 PDT August 25, 2020
Big rollers on the Southern Ocean Leg from Cape Town to Fremantle © Clipper Race

I've spent large parcels of the last several weeks writing about the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup (August 30-September 4) for a different publication, and one of the most impressive things that I learned was exactly how close navigators and tacticians take these massive yachts to the bricks as they compete in the regatta's coastal racecourses. This event—for those who might not know—is limited to yachts that are at least 60 feet, LOA, and up. And this, of course, translates to impressively deep-draught keels and boatspeeds that are easily measured in the low-to-mid teens for uphill work and low-to-mid 20s for downhill sailing, provided, of course, that the weather gods cooperate.

While these metrics are impressive, what put my jaw on my desk was the fact that the best teams often sail these seafloor-scratching keels mere feet above rocks that could wreck absolute havoc if contact is made.

Granted, these yachts are crewed by some of the world's best big-boat sailors, but when the accuracy of one's GPS information is called into question before an afterguard commits to a particular routing, you know that you're playing for keeps in a regatta setting.

It was with these stories in my recent memory that I read The New York Times's (www.nytimes.com/2020/08/17/sports/sailing/marvin-creamer-a-mariner-who-sailed-like-the-ancients-dies-at-104.html) excellent obituary on Marvin Creamer (1916-2020), a geographer, university professor and lifelong sailor who earned international admiration and respect in 1984 when he and a small crew sailed Globe Star, a 36-foot sloop, around the world, sans any navigational instruments.

You read that right: a circumnavigation without even so much as a compass or a watch for guidance or dead-reckoning assistance.

(N.B., to be fair, Creamer and company kept a compass, clock, radio and a sextant aboard, sealed in a locker, in case of an absolute emergency; this scheme allowed them to later prove that they did not rely on any instrumentation on their lap of our lonely planet. In this same light, Creamer also kept an hour glass on hand, which was only used to maintain the crew's watch-keeping schedule.)

All told, Creamer and his crew managed to sail Globe Star some 30,000 nautical miles using only their senses and their knowledge of the earth as guidance.

If this sounds reminiscent of the famous South Pacific wave pilots, you're on the right track.

According to Margalit Fox, who penned Creamer's obituary in The New York Times, Creamer and company trusted "nothing more than wind, waves, the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night." Additionally, Fox wrote that Creamer could determine his position based on water temperature and color, humidity levels, and the presence of certain fauna species when the skies were obscured by clouds.

Yet unlike foolhardy circumnavigations attempted by woefully unprepared "mariners" (I use the term lightly) such as Donald Crowhurst, Creamer spent his life preparing for his around-the-world journey. This included a childhood obsession with star-gazing and ancient forms of navigation, many university-level classes in geography and oceanography, a lifetime passion for offshore sailing, and a series of transatlantic crossings that were made sans all instrumentation.

Despite these significant preparations and previous trials, Fox reports that the world effectively scoffed at his plans when he announced his intentions.

Yet Creamer boldly brushed aside this criticism and, on December 21, 1982, he and his crew set out on what would prove to be a 513-day journey that began and ended on the waters just off of Cape May, New Jersey.

Plenty of adventures ensued, including a temporary detention in the Falkland Islands (remember this was in 1983), some serious partying in Hobart, Tasmania, and a rather unique journey around Cape Horn, not to mention close calls with storms, passing ships and marine life, but, throughout the length of their 30,000 nautical mile voyage, Creamer never doubted his abilities.

The Globe Star crew returned home to a rightly deserved heroes' welcome and much international attention, and Creamer was awarded the Cruising Club of America's prestigious Bluewater Medal.

Most importantly, Creamer proved to himself that his dream of becoming the first sailor to circumnavigate the planet without any navigational tools wasn't a suicide mission.

I'll admit to smiling at the last lines of Fox's obituary, where she notes that Creamer sailed well into his tenth decade on this planet. Ironically, his final sailboat was equipped with a GPS, but the not-so-ancient mariner never bothered to learn how to use it.

It's not like he needed it.

My one regret after reading this obituary of a life truly well-lived is that I had not heard of Mr. Creamer during his living years, nor did I have a chance to interview a truly masterful navigator and sailor. This, of course, reflects only my own ignorance, and I will raise my next glass in his honor and to his audaciously bold theory of navigation.

While it's likely a good thing that he stayed away from the kind of rock hopping that will be unfurling at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, the sailing world is undoubtedly richer for Mr. Creamer's circumnavigation, and for his lifetime of preparation that enabled him to put paid to a truly proud childhood dream.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

Related Articles

Family time
Definitely the message of 2020. Boats are a fave item in the brave new world... Well it definitely is the message of 2020. No matter whether you're talking new or used, boats certainly have been a fave item in the brave new world. Posted on 25 Nov
Cup news, Vendee Globe update, US Sailing staff
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA Daylight and warm temperatures might be in short supply these days in most of North America, and rainfall might be abundant here in the Pacific Northwest, but that sure doesn't mean that the international sailing news cycle is in hibernation. Posted on 24 Nov
There's a place called Hobart
It's pretty special all year round, and it's also a good springboard It's pretty special all year round. Hobart is also a marvellous springboard from which to leap into history, culinary delights, nature's gifts of both flora and fauna, all manner of beverages, trails, bushwalking... Posted on 22 Nov
In Conversation with Andy Rice
Chatting about the Draycote Dash, Vendée Globe, America's Cup and more! Mark Jardine chats with Andy about the Draycote Dash, which would be taking place this weekend if it weren't for Lockdown 2.0, the Seldén Sailjuice Winter Series, the Vendée Globe, the build-up to the 36th America's Cup and his 'Road to Gold' series. Posted on 20 Nov
The John Westell Centenary
Dougal Henshall gives us an introduction to the upcoming video series! Whatever your favourite dinghy or boat may be, they all have one thing in common! At some point back in the past, someone sat down and drew the lines for the boat, normally with a particular purpose in mind! Posted on 20 Nov
Gladwell's Line: The Cup accelerates
To our eye, the Challengers' Version 2 AC75's are all very similar in performance As we have said in a couple of the Rialto stories, the Challengers' Version 2 AC75's are all very similar in performance - and to our eye don't look like they are any quicker than Emirates Team New Zealand's Version 1 AC75, Te Aihe. Posted on 19 Nov
Kevin Morin on MarkSetBot's new RaceOS technology
David Schmidt checks in with the founder and creator to learn more I checked in with Kevin Morin, the founder and creator of MarkSetBot, via email, to learn more about RaceOS technology and how it can improve sailboat racing. Posted on 18 Nov
What is sailing?
A simple question one would think... A simple question one would think, but there are several events, innovations, trends and decisions which have brought up this fundamental question for us sailors, particularly yachtsmen. Posted on 17 Nov
Hot Wood...
Dougal Henshall charts the success of Fairey Marine's moulded dinghies The name of Fairey Marine, and their incredible range of hot moulded wooden dinghies, is central to the growth that marked that golden era of dinghy sailing in the UK. There was nothing like success to help sales. Posted on 13 Nov
Vendee Globe begins, AC36 news, e-Sailing Worlds
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA As the U.S. wraps up what can only be described as a bruising election season, the sailing community can count itself extremely lucky to have one of the best mental distractions available, namely the start of the 2020/2021 edition of the Vendee Globe. Posted on 10 Nov
C-Tech 2020 Battens 2 728x90 BOTTOMZhik 2020 Black Friday - FOOTERSelden 2020 - FOOTER