Living , Modern



1949 -

Excerpt from SAIL Magazine, by Michael Petrie, August 2, 2017

In July 1965, at the age of 16, Robin Lee Graham set out on a 33,000-mile, five-year circumnavigation aboard his Bill Lapworth-designed 24ft sloop Dove. National Geographic magazine famously covered the voyage, which spawned two best-selling books—Dove and Home is the Sailor—a children’s book and a 1974 Hollywood movie, The Dove.

…Not surprisingly, the race to be the youngest has sparked its share of controversy, and the World Sailing Speed Record Council no longer recognizes these age-related records.

The Story of the Voyage:

Excerpt from an article written by Justin Franz for the Summer 2019 edition of Flathead Living:

Robin has always been drawn to the water. When he was a boy in California in the 1950s, when others were doodling spaceships and rockets, he was drawing boats. The interest was inherited. Robin’s father and uncle had started building a sailboat in the early 1940s but never finished it because of World War II.

When Robin was 10, he convinced his father to buy him a small dinghy boat, which he later described in his book as “beat up but beautiful.” A few years later, Robin’s father decided to finally live out his own sailing dreams, purchased a boat and took the family on a months-long journey.

Upon their return, Robin struggled at school and was more interested in the lessons he had learned abroad than the ones taught in a classroom. Robin’s father decided the sea was a better place for his son, so he invited him to be his shipmate on a trip to the family’s new home in Hawaii. The trip was a brief return to the sea life Robin loved so dearly.

In Hawaii, Robin continued to struggle at school but made two friends who also loved to sail. The three boys put their meager savings together to purchase their own boat, a 16-foot aluminum lifeboat, and hatched a plan to set sail to the island of Lanai. School was quickly put on the backburner.

“It wasn’t so much that I disliked learning — for I realized the need to be at least partially civilized and my grades were average — but that I detested the routine of school days, the unchanging pattern from the brushing of my teeth to learning English grammar,” Robin later wrote. “I came to hate the sound of the bell that summoned me to class, the smell of tennis shoes and sweat in the gym, the drone of history lessons, the threat of tests and exams.”

On January 28, 1965, Robin and his friends set sail for Lanai. Before leaving he wrote a letter to his dad explaining why he didn’t tell him about the trip — “if I had done so you would have not let me go” — and that he loved him. But the trip quickly went off course when the three boys got trapped in a storm and spent a rough night at sea. The following morning, they turned on their transistor radio to learn that the U.S. Coast Guard was searching for them and that people back in Honolulu assumed they had died in the storm.

Amazingly, the boys made it to Lanai and found some picnickers on the beach, who drove them to the police station. The search was called off, and the following day they flew back to Honolulu. The boys were found guilty in a Coast Guard court of negligently operating a boat, a conviction that came with a $100 ticket, but the judge dropped the fine.

Most parents would be upset with their son for recklessly sailing the ocean with two friends, but Robin’s father took a different route: he got him a new boat. Robin’s dad reasoned that if he didn’t get him a real boat, the boy would end up going out again in “some other damn silly thing.”

Because the new boat was in California, Robin had to sail it from there to Hawaii. But why stop there? In the spring of 1965, Robin began to think about sailing around the world by himself. Soon the thought hatched into a plan, and that summer he worked on the boat and stocked it for an unbelievable adventure. On July 27, he set sail.

Over the course of five years, Robin sailed around the world, making stops in Hawaii, Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, and the West Indies. Sometimes he would spend a few days or weeks in a place; sometimes he stayed longer. Sailing solo was challenging, but over time Robin mastered it. One of the biggest challenges was constantly being alone. Another was getting rest.

“You don’t sleep soundly (on the boat),” Robin said. “Different wave motions will wake you up and you have to go and check things out.”

Robin Lee Graham using a sextant to measure distances during his trip around the world. Courtesy photo

The trip was not without incident. At one point, Robin was inside the cabin of the boat reading when he heard a rumble outside. Before he knew it, the boat was thrown sideways and water was pouring into it. The boat had been nearly flipped by the wave of a passing freighter. Thankfully, the ship righted itself and Robin survived.

“That was one of the worst experiences,” Robin said. “I mean, you’re in the middle of the ocean. What are the odds of that happening? You’re a thousand miles from land and suddenly you run into a ship. Then afterwards you might not see another ship for two weeks!”

During a stop in Fiji, Robin met his future wife Patti, an American who was traveling in the South Pacific at the time. The two quickly fell in love, and over the next few years Patti would frequently greet Robin at the various stops on his trip. On one such stop in South Africa, the two got engaged and were married soon after.

In early 1970, Robin went down the Panama Canal and then tracked north along Central America bound for home. On April 30, 1970, Robin arrived in Long Beach, California, having covered 33,000 miles at sea.



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