This month marks the 25th anniversary of the solo circumnavigation by Teddy Seymour, a voyage that wrote his name in the history books.
The St. Croix sailor left Frederiksted harbor on February 26 1986 and returned on June 19 1987, becoming the first African-American man to solo circumnavigate the globe. Now, on the 25th anniversary of his feat, Seymour says it wasn’t an accomplishment he purposely set out to achieve.
“The idea to sail around the world developed some five years before I set off,” Seymour explains. “I enjoyed sailing the Caribbean and had cruised up and down the islands over the previous ten years, but I wanted to explore further afield. I like to sail with company and originally planned to go with two women. They backed out. I don’t think they found my 35-footer quite like a cruise ship.”
Born in Yonkers, New York, two blocks from the Hudson, Seymour’s love of the outdoors, and adventurous spirit, showed itself early. He wasn’t fazed when he sledded down a hill right under a moving milk truck or when he had to be rescued when his hand-built raft got caught up in the Hudson’s current.
Many aspects of Seymour’s early life prepared him for the circumnavigation. He served as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps for seven years, studied molecular biology at California State University at Fullerton with the dream of becoming a doctor, and then worked in production management for the American Can Company.
“It was the management skills I learned and how to build a quality product that really helped me prepare my Ericson 35ft, MK I, Alberg hull design, Love Song, for the cruise,” he says. “During eleven years of ownership, she was heavily reinforced, modified and equipped for solo-cruising.”
Seymour taught himself to sail while stationed at Camp Pendleton, in California. Marine officers could check out Lightenings. Later, he purchased a Lido 14 and then a Snipe. He once sailed the Snipe solo over 26 miles of open ocean to Catalina Island, lunching on tuna out of the can and watching the sharks lick their chops as they swam beside him.
It was during these early years that he earned a Master’s Degree in recreational administration from the University of California at Long Beach. An avid runner, Teddy Seymour met someone from St. Croix at a track meet and learned the island was desperate for teachers and coaches. He was living on his Columbia 26 at the time and ultimately sailed her from California’s Newport Beach to St. Croix to take a teaching position. He worked two jobs seven days a week to save money for his circumnavigation. Yet, the purchase of sails, ground tackle, satellite navigation, solar panels, refrigeration and a ham radio depleted his cruising budget from $12,000 to $6000 ($2000 of this on a credit card) by the time he cast off.
“I only made 12 stops and spent money only on essentials,” says Seymour. “That’s my no-frills circumnavigation of the world and it ended up costing me only $5300. I caught plenty of fish, ate a lot of rice and beans and grew my own sprouts.”
The most exhilarating part of his global cruise – which saw him traverse the Panama canal, ride the swift moving Humboldt Current to the Galapagos, stop to run a 5000-meter race in American Samoa, cruise the Torres Strait between New Guinea and Australia to the Indian Ocean – happened at this point.
Seymour wrote in his journal at the time: ‘The halfway point in the circumnavigation, where the Timor Sea meets the Indian Ocean, was the dramatic locale chosen by Mother Nature to bestow a bonus package of exciting sailing conditions: wind, rain, and swells appeared with exuberance. The wind pumped at 20 knots with periodic squalls, 100 percent cloud cover prevailed most of the time, and rain fell in abundance. Love Song surfed supreme on the steep, swift swells, averaging 164 miles per day. The companionway remained closed most of the time as waves climbed over the transom and quarter section. Vigorous motion confined me to a bunk and a book, and the dense overcast required the use of a lamp during daylight hours’.
He finished the second half of his trip by sailing north of Africa through the Red Sea and Mediterranean where he met challenges such as heavy ship traffic, freezing temperatures, hailstorms, blizzards and a gale he survived in the land-locked sea. Finally, Seymour completed his circumnavigation with a 38 day sail from Spain to St. Croix.
“I felt a bit of a letdown when it was over, but after sailing around the world, Frederikstead is still one of my favorite places,” says Seymour, who received the prestigious Golden Circle Award by the Joshua Slocum Society. “The trip proved to be an incredible and invaluable experience.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.