Deceased , Historic




1908 - 1983

“Contemporary man is cheating himself of future oyster dinners by his very efficiency in collecting them; he cannot take and not give; success in one day means failure in another.”

-Gilbert Klingel


Gilbert Clarence Klingel, a true “renaissance man”, was a naturalist, boatbuilder, adventurer, sailor, photographer, author, and inventor. He was a regular contributor to the Baltimore Sun, for a time affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a member of the Maryland Academy of Sciences, as well as a curator and charter member of the Natural History Society of Maryland. He is best known for his book about the Chesapeake Bay, The Bay, which won the John Burroughs Medal in 1953. He is recently the subject of the multiple award-winning documentary, Gilbert Klingel: Man of Steel, which airs regularly on the National Geographic Channel and PBS.


The Aquascope ready to deploy into the Chesapeake Bay. Gilbert Klingel (left) and Willard Culver (right), a photographer for National Geographic Society, peer though the viewing window.


Klingel sailed all his life and was an experienced and excellent sailor.  As an adventurer, he sailed to learn and discover, and then write about his adventures.  This is what he most loved to do.  The knowledge he gained during his long sailing experience enabled him to always find ways to improve his custom built boats.


A snapshot of just a few of Klingel’s accomplishments:

  • 1953, In the Aquascope that he designed and built, sat on the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay for 100 hours to observe the marine life and the way the tides and currents flow
  • Headed up an expedition with the National Geographic Society in Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay that resulted in the first ever large scale recorded underwater color photography of the Bay
  • Built underwater submersibles for studying marine life and then turned that skill into building 30 – 75 foot boats with metal hulls, by hand, practically by himself
  • Was shipwrecked on a sparsely populated remote island near the shores of Cuba after a violent storm at sea with few provisions.
  • Taught himself science and wrote three award-winning books that are still in publication 80+ years later, as well as many articles for various publications
  • Built a boat yard on Gwynn’s Island, Virginia, to fulfill his dreams as a self-taught naturalist and explorer.
  • He is recently the subject of the multiple award-winning documentary, Gilbert Klingel: Man of Steel, which airs regularly on the National Geographic Channel and PBS.



Inagua, The Ocean Island, and BASILISK shipwreck

A memoir of the voyage to the West Indies, the shipwreck, and a naturalist’s survey of the island, including detailed pictures of flora and fauna. It has been translated into Estonian, Swedish, German, and Russian. This book (1940,1942 British,1944,1954,1957,1961 AMNH paperback,1997,1999) has been out of print, but a new 2010 edition is now available.


The Bay

Klingel’s second book, The Bay, illustrated by Natalie Harlan Davis (1898–1988), 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. In 1953 he was awarded the John Burroughs Medal from the John Burroughs Association for this book (1951,1967,1984).


Seeing Chesapeake Wilds

Photo-essay about the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore, with preface and photographs by Byron Parker Shurtleff (1929-1999), a professor of photography at the University of Delaware, and the poetic text by Klingel (1970,1973,1977).


Boatbuilding with Steel

Klingel’s final book, Boatbuilding with Steel: Including Boatbuilding With Aluminum, was published in 1973 (2nd edition 1991), and is considered a classic on the subject. The included chapter on aluminum is by noted yacht designer Thomas E. Colvin (1925-2014).





  • Klingel wrote articles for National Geographic and the Baltimore Sun,[6] 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 (1898-1986) 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 also wrote three articles for Natural History – The Journal of the American Museum of Natural History, namely “Lizard Hunting in the Black Republic,”, “Shipwrecked on Inagua,” and “The Edge of the Edge of the World,” (1940). The last recounts a dive with diving helmet on a coral reef and the edge of its 1,200 fathom drop-off, a half mile offshore Inagua.


  • Klingel shot some silent b&w film on his 1928-9 American Museum of Natural History research trip featuring rhinoceros iguanas on La Petite Gonaves, a small coral island off the south coast of Gonave Island, in the Gulf of Gonaves, west-northwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


  • In August 1932 he co-authored with Gladwyn Kingsley Noble (1894-1940) the American Museum Novitates number 549 entitled “The Reptiles of Great Inagua Island, British West Indies.” Klingel found two new species of geckos and one new subspecies of the lizard Pholidoscelis maynardi.


The following pdf is an overview is from a biography posted by Stuart Coleman, the grandson of Wally Coleman, Klingel’s shipmate in the Inagua saga, and written by Marcy Benouameur, Gilbert Klingel’s daughter. The full biography is available as “The Author | Inagua the Book” at Klingel, Gilbert Excerpt from biography


For more information on Gilbert Klingel, visit , a branch of the website of the Mathews Maritime Museum in Mathews County, Virginia, the county where Klingel built his boatshop.

A recent article from Chesapeake Bay Magazine (April, 2021):

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