Living , Historic

Teddy

Seymour

Teddy

1941

Honors and Accomplishments:

  • In 1987, Teddy Seymour was officially designated the first black man to sail around the world when he completed his solo sailing circumnavigation via the canals in Frederiksted, St. Croix, of the United States Virgin Islands.
  • Golden Circle Award recipient, by the Joshua Slocum Society
  • Awarded Lifetime Membership with the Joshua Slocum Society
  • Virgin Islands Legislature enacted a resolution to preserve his contribution into Virgin Islands maritime history

 

The following account was written by Captain Herman Ross for his blog, Atlantic Creole Black Folk Don’t Sail:

On 19 June 1987 Teddy Seymour, at the age of 46, completed a single-handed circumnavigation of the world via the Suez and Panama Canals. He became the first Black man and the 161st person to sail around the world alone. Later, Bill Pinkney would accomplish the same but via the capes. There has been and will be some controversy over the claims of both but, from a single-hander’s perspective, understand that anybody who can sail alone around the world is worthy of, at the very least, a sailor’s respect. Pinkney went around all the five points of land at the bottom of our planet and Seymour went through the Panama and Suez Canals (which you are not allowed to cross alone) but both sailors sailed around the world alone and they are both of African Descent and U.S. American in nationality.

As far as a calendar marking event goes, Seymour is the first black man to sail around the world alone. The former elementary school teacher set sail on February 24, 1986 from the pier in Frederiksted, St.Croix, US Virgin Islands where he returned on June 19, 1987.

Seymour was born in Yonkers, New York in 1941. He was fascinated by the Hudson River flow and eventually at the age of 13, and with the aid of friends, he built a raft out of scrap wood and drifted down the Hudson having to be saved by a rescue team. That started his adventurous life on the water. Seymour received a track and field scholarship to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. But adventure was his calling so after university he joined the Marines in 1965 for a seven-year stretch, including time in Viet Name, he resigned honourably as a Captain.

While he was in the Marines, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, near the yachting centre of Newport Beach in California. It was difficult for him not to drift over to the seaside town and see a multitude of sailing boats moving in and out of the long harbour.

‘I learned to sail by reading two books and then by going out and renting a sailboat in Newport Harbour.’ Before long he had purchased two small open racing dinghies before buying a 26’ Mark II.’ Some of us are drawn to the water for more profound reasons than securing a glass of water to quench a thirst.’

 

 

He lived aboard the small Columbia in Newport Beach Harbour for almost five years while an artillery officer in the Marines before purchasing Love Song, a 35’ Ericson Mark I Sloop, with an Alberg hull. This gave him more comfort and increased his scope of wandering potential.

In 1979 Teddy Seymour cast off his mooring lines and sailed for the Panama Canal to take a job offering as an elementary school teacher in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.

About his time living in the Los Angeles region he only says, ‘…the cops hassled me just because I was a Black man running down the street in a sweatsuit.’

The Virgin Islands was definitely more to Seymour’s appreciation of life but he still longed for something more… like sailing around the world. While working and enjoying life and the exquisite cruising offered in the Virgins Teddy Seymour paid off Love Song and needed preparations for a dream- to sail around the world. He thought he was going to have three crew members joining him at different spots but found that the ladies, and they were all three ladies, found other things to do aside from sail around on a little boat. But that did not stop Teddy.

For seven years Teddy prepared for his trip around the world with an earnest effort to re-enforce the production boat’s hull and rigging for the arduous oceanic voyage.

He reinforced the bow structure with six layers of 24-once mat and epoxy resin and added several layers to the stern section. He also reinforced the mast step support with a belowdecks post made of 17 pieces of laminated wood. Seymour replaced the rigging with 5/16th” stainless steel and put in double-headstays for easier sail changing. “The mainsail is held on the boom by lazy jacks,” Seymour said, “and the jib is held on deck by a net connected to the forward stanchions.”

Love Song has a long keel with a cut off forefoot and a protected rudder. Teddy wisely kept the tiller in place of a wheel for steering, ‘… so there is no concern with a cable breaking.’ and is rigged with all halyards run to the cockpit for less foredeck work and he added solar panels for 12 volt power.

For over three years before he left, Seymour planned his route, checking weather and estimating arrival dates at each of his five scheduled ports. Of course, a sailor always plans only for a route toward a destination and not to one, so his five scheduled stops ended up as twelve. The sailor was going to circle the globe Westward from St. Croix. He had routed his course to stop at Durban, South Africa but changed it to go through the Suez Canal after being warned to avoid South Africa by the US Counsel.

When he was ready to go an accounting showed that preparation costs went to $17,000, leaving him a cruising pouch of $6,000 including a $2,000 loan from a cousin and a credit card limit of $2,000. Strangely enough the ex-Marine made it around the world for less than $6,000.

Seymour’s basic rule was to keep it simple. Simple it was. His reason for sailing around the world was to simply do it. ‘I didn’t make this voyage for publicity. It’s not my style, I could have gone to New York and gotten backing, but this was a solo effort.’

Interestingly enough, Teddy Seymour was not actually interested in making ports but in accomplishing the sailing itself. It was the challenge to know exactly where he was and where he would go next that moved him to invest so much time, money, and effort in circling the globe. There were also the added expenses involved in port stops. He felt that without be able to work in ports his limited budget would not last long. So, in his twelve stops along the way he visited Panama, several South Pacific islands-Pago Pago, American Samoa; Port Moresby, New Guinea; , Australia’s Port Darwin, the Seychelles, South Yemen, Suez, Israel, Greece.

AT the start of his voyage Seymour’s food lockers contained, ‘… one case of peanut butter, potatoes, rice, beans, oatmeal, onions, flour, and lentils. I baked my own bread, and about once a week, caught a fish.’

An ice box kept the fresh meats and vegetables preserved, and he grew his own bean and alfalfa sprouts adding to a high-protein diet. Love Song held two 33-gallon water tanks, so Seymour used salt water for most cooking and cleaning, including bathing. Because of some rainwater gathering arrangements he only had to refill the tanks five times during the whole year and a half.

‘Processing occurs in five offices which are located in various buildings throughout Colon. The total fee paid was $49.00; to wit, $30.00 for a cruising permit, $10.00 for a visa, and $9.00 toll fee.

‘To qualify for the tranit, a yacht must have a captain, a crew of four to handle lines, and a Panama Canal Pilot, who is automatically provided, without additional cost. Four lines handlers were found aboard cruising vessels. They were happy to help as long as there was plenty of cold beer and hamburgers onboard during the passage.

After a near collision with the canal walls because of the tug captain he was rafted to, Seymour reports in his book, ’The remainder of the 51-mile canal transit was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.’

After crossing the Panama Canal Seymour cruised through the South Pacific and into the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal. When he entered the Mediterranean, he found himself in the worst winter that body of water had had in over 42 years. Gales and mountainous seas forced Love Song into Israel to stay for 31 days and later into the inner harbour at Pilos Island in Greece for a further 30 days. When Seymour finally passed the Pillars of Hercules, and the Straits of Gibraltar and sailed into the Atlantic on his way home, he had $38 worth of food in his lockers.

All in all, what Teddy Seymour found in his travels was a compassion for the voyager, the sailor. He had feasts given for him by strangers on South Pacific Islands, friendships struck on mountain hikes by Greeks, companionship in Israel. He found the fact that he was Black benefitted his stays in most places. “People would invite me to their homes. In Australia, I went home with a mechanic. He fixed my engine for free. A parts company representative ordered the parts I needed and paid for them himself. Everywhere, people helped me. I got preferential treatment by being a black American,” he said.

On 18 June 1992, the African-American focused independent newspaper, Bay State Banne,r out of Boston wrote the following:

‘Lacking corporate sponsors and media coverage, Seymour’s 16-month journey was in every bit a solo effort. ‘The easy part was sailing around the world,’ said the 51-year-old Seymour in a telephone interview.

Teddy Seymour has been awarded lifetime membership with and the Golden Circle Award from the prestigious Joshua Slocum Society. He has been acknowledged by the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey. The Virgin Islands Legislature enacted a resolution to preserve his contribution into Virgin Islands maritime history.

And for more than thirty years the Virgin Islands Pace Road Runners Club gives a Toast to The Captain 8.4 mile Race honouring Teddy Seymour.

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