When I was a kid, I remember being mesmerized by a 2-hour TV special about a man who spent 150 days sailing his 60-foot sailboat, American Promise, 27,000 miles around the world non-stop. His name was Dodge Morgan.
As I pondered romantic visions of sailing the open ocean with nothing but the sound of passing waves slapping the hull, dark, star-filled skies, and the hum of the wind in the rigging, I thought, “What an amazing adventure”.
Before casting his dock lines ashore in Portland, Maine, the start of Dodge Morgan’s 1985/6 record-setting circumnavigation, his friend (and my former neighbor) Max Fletcher handed him something… It was a copy of the journal he kept while sailing his Westsail 32, Christopher Robin, double-handed around Cape Horn a few years prior.
He later told Max that he read it during his voyage and remarked, “if these two idiots can do it, so can I.”
While battling fierce storms, intense loneliness, and the challenges associated with managing over a thousand square feet of canvas, Dodge Morgan pioneered the sport of long distance singlehanded sailing, advanced offshore sailing technology, and inspired countless individuals to get out on the ocean and explore for themselves.
Soon after returning from his circumnavigation, he donated American Promise to the United States Naval Academy for their offshore sail-training program. A well-built boat with attractive lines and substantial living space in her cabin, American Promise was an ideal training platform for the Midshipmen.
Summer sail training sessions by the Naval Academy brought the Mids up to Maine on occasion to visit Dodge, but he never again set foot on her. Perhaps he just preferred to remember her how she was.
Years later, while a member of the Offshore Sailing Team at the United States Naval Academy, I was afforded the opportunity as Navigator/Watch Captain of American Promise during the 1997 Marion-Bermuda Cruising Yacht Race. I could hardly have been more excited to be racing a boat that had been the platform of such an inspirational voyage 10 years earlier.
Although in later years he lived a bit of a recluse lifestyle, he will always be remembered by his friends as a wonderful and interesting gentleman and saavy businessman.
Fair Winds and Following Seas Mr. Morgan.
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