Deceased , Modern





Gilbert Klingel was a naturalist, boatbuilder, adventurer, author and contributor to the Baltimore Sun, for a time affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and a founder and longtime member of The Natural History Society of Maryland. He is best known for his book about the Chesapeake Bay, The Bay, winner of the John Burroughs Medal.


Klingel built his first boat when he was 20. In 1930, at a boat shop in Oxford, Maryland, Klingel supervised the construction of a replica of Spray, the rotund sloop in which National Sailing Hall of Famer Joshua Slocum became the first man to sail solo around the world in 1898. Klingel christened the boat Basilisk, and with the support of the American Museum of Natural History, it was fitted out as a biological laboratory to be used for an expedition to gather information on rare species in the West Indies, especially lizards.

Klingel had organized an earlier research trip to Haiti to study the life history of reptiles there and had shared his discoveries with the American Museum of Natural History. With a sailing companion, Klingel embarked from Maryland on an extended voyage. After a series of mishaps, Klingel was shipwrecked in December 1930 on the island of Inagua, the southernmost and third largest island in the Bahamas. Although most of his instruments were lost, Klingel decided nonetheless to stay, take pictures with his salvaged camera, and explore the island. The result was published in his first book, Inagua, a memoir of the voyage and a naturalist’s survey of the island, including detailed pictures of flora and fauna. This book had been out of print, but a new edition is now available.

Klingel’s book, The Bay, expanded from articles he wrote for the Baltimore Sun, describes the Chesapeake as he’d known it all the way back to his childhood decades earlier and includes a detailed naturalist survey of sounds and sights both above and below the surface of the Chesapeake. He was awarded the John Burroughs Medal from the American Museum of Natural History in 1953 for this book.

Klingel wrote articles for National Geographic and the Baltimore Sun, mainly on topics related to the Chesapeake Bay. His article, “One Hundred Hours Beneath the Chesapeake,” in the May, 1955, issue of National Geographic featured color photos by Willard R. Culver that were among the first taken from beneath a temperate estuary. These images were taken from inside a diving vessel invented by Klingel that was lowered into the waters off Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay.

Klingel’s final book was Boatbuilding with Steel: Including Boatbuilding with Aluminum with noted yacht designer Thomas Colvin, published in 1973, and is considered a classic on the subject.

During World War II, Klingel worked for ARCMO Steel in Baltimore and rose to Chief of Metallurgy for ARMCO in the course of his career there.

After retiring he started Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard in Virginia. He built a dozen steel sailboats in the 30′ class, along with a 42′ ketch, a 51′ schooner, Pipistrelle, a 75′ C/B ketch, Clementine, and one large powerboat (a 62′ yacht, Manteo, now named Mariah). In addition to building these steel boats, he also built several diving bells that he used for research in the Chesapeake Bay. 


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