Who was Bernard Gilboy, forgotten sailing legend?


Who was he? Folks today might well ask…

The Wikipedia has this single, stark sentence describing what Gilboy did in 1882-3:

‘In 1882, Bernard Gilboy sailed a 19-foot (6 m) schooner that he built himself from San Francisco 7,000 miles (11,265 km) miles across the Pacific in 162 days until he was picked up exhausted and starving off Queensland, Australia after a swordfish pierced his hull and he lost the rudder.’

Weblogger Thomas Armstrong has a post about Gilboy at 70.8% quoting Webb Chiles’s take on the trans-Pacific sailor’s astonishing achievement – he links to Chiles’ own website, which describes Gilboy’s almost successful attempt to make the first solo voyage across the Pacific Ocean as ‘among the greatest almost unknown voyages’.

There’s also an informative French language article about Gilboy at the Atlantic Yacht Club web site. It seems Gilboy’s inspiration was Alfred Johnson, who famously crossed the Atlantic alone in his sailing dory Centennial in 1876.

Gilboy is best known today for the short book he wrote, A Voyage of Pleasure, which was reprinted in the 1950s, and can still be found here and there. I’ve ordered a copy and I look forward to receiving it. I understand the photo shown above comes from Gilboy’s book, and shows the ingenious jury rig he set up after being dismasted and losing much of his stores.

Chiles reports that the title comes from the customs clearance papers, which described his planned trip as ‘a voyage of pleasure’ – I suppose none of the other usual descriptions seemed to fit. Contrary to the expectations of most Europeans, it seems this American had a highly developed sense of irony…

If like me you ever wonder what happened to great adventurers after their moment in the limelight, you may be interested to know that Gilboy worked on the trams, became skipper of a steamer named Centennial. Sadly, Gilboy, his crew and ship came to a bad end – they died of cold and starvation while stuck in ice near the Island of  Sakhaline in 1906.

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