Deceased , Modern



1927 - 2008

Hal Roth was an avid sailor and prolific sailing writer.

The success of his first book, about the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, prompted him and his wife to try the precarious worlds of adventuring and writing. They quit their jobs and began a 19-month voyage around the Pacific in a 35-foot sloop. Their vast journey culminated in the publication of his first sailing book, Two on a Big Ocean. He and his wife, Margaret, subsequently made a life of sailing and writing about it, including sailing around South America and a circumnavigation via Panama, the Torres Strait, and Suez.

The following is an excerpt from Roth’s nomination:
Hal Roth’s accomplishments as a cruising sailor, as a racing sailor and especially as an author have domesticated this exotic and exciting sport for Americans, especially for those who have never sailed before. It is because of Roth’s work that countless people have undoubtedly said, “I can do this too.” Furthermore, that so many of his writings focused on the sailing partnership formed by Hal and his beloved wife, Margaret, his body of work could also be argued to have metamorphosed the sport from a rich man’s pastime to an American family affair. His words allowed husbands and wives both to see themselves out sailing the world and to be able to see themselves doing it happily with their together.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1927, Roth was an aviator during World War II and the Korean War. Later, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in Journalism, he became a freelance writer and photographer. As a photographer, he trained under Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and his work was published in Colliers, Fortune, The Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Times. His first book, Pathway in the Sky, about the John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, was published in 1965.

Even though neither he nor his wife were sailors, their friends introduced them to the sport as adults in 1962. They chartered a boat in the West Indies, and then Greece, quickly learning the proverbial ropes. They took sailing lessons in Scotland. Less than four years later, he and Margaret quit their jobs and, in 1966, began a 19-month journey around the Pacific on a 35-foot sloop named Whisper. That adventure led to his first sailing book, Two on a Big Ocean. That book, along with Two Against Cape Horn and Always a Distant Anchorage are classics of cruising literature, and his instructional book After 50,000 Miles, ranks among the most important sailing books ever written.

Logging some 150,000 miles, Roth would go on to write more than 400 articles and 11 books on sailing – each one a compelling narrative of his dauntless antics at sea. The couple sailing around the world together from 1981 to 1985, and Roth himself later competed in two BOC solo round-the-world races. They also retraced the path of Homer’s Odysseus. Like Odysseus, Roth saw that pain and glory go hand-in-hand. While racing in the 1990 BOC Around Alone, he suffered a major knockdown. About it he wrote: “The capsize in the Indian Ocean was both the high and low point in my life. To see the keel pointing straight up when I was alongside in the water was something I won’t forget. And when the yacht rolled back up and the mast appeared unbroken with the water streaming off, seemed like a biblical experience.”

An indefatigable writer, Roth continued writing about his love of sailing right up until his death. His final books, We Followed Odysseus and Handling Storms at Sea, were published around the time when he died from a prolonged battle with lung cancer. Two other works, The Paradise Book and Graf Spee, were completed but never published. In 1971, he was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.

Accomplishments and Honors

  • Published over 400 articles and 13 books, including:
    • Pathway in the Sky: The Story of the John Muir Trail
    • Two on a Big Ocean (circumnavigation of the Pacific)
    • After 50,000 Miles (suitable boats and equipment for voyaging)
    • Two Against Cape Horn (circumnavigation of South America)
    • Always a Distant Anchorage (circumnavigation of the earth)
    • Chasing The Long Rainbow (racing in the BOC Challenge)
    • The Longest Race (the first single handed non-stop circumnavigation race 1968)
    • We Followed Odysseus (following the route of the Odyssey)
    • Handling Storms at Sea: The 5 Secrets of Heavy Weather Sailing
    • How to Sail Around the World; Advice and Ideas for Voyaging Under Sail
    • Chasing the Wind (racing in the BOC Challenge, second race)
    • Whisper’s Pacific Voyage
    • The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy: Three True Stories of Adventure Under Sail
  • Logged over 150,000 miles of sailing
  • Raced in the BOC Around the World Challenge
  • 1971, awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America

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