[guest post by JVW]
If you hadn’t heard of him, fear not: neither had I. But he was mentioned today in Jay Nordlinger’s Impromptus column at National Review Online, so I just had to go to his obituary in the New York Times to learn more about a remarkable man:
Had Marvin Creamer not been a geographer, he very likely would not have lived to be 104.
Professor Creamer, who died at that age on Wednesday, taught geography for many years at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, in Glassboro, N.J.
His expertise helped him become a history-making mariner, the first recorded person to sail round the world without navigational instruments. His 30,000-mile odyssey, in a 36-foot cutter with a small crew, made headlines worldwide on its completion in 1984.
No 20th century (radio) or even 18th century (sextant) technology for him, not even some rudimentary 15th century technology such as a mariner’s astrolabe or a 12th century compass. Professor Creamer sailed as the Vikings and Polynesians, among other earlier seafaring people, had centuries before:
It is daunting enough to circumnavigate the Earth with the aid of modern global positioning technology, much less with medieval and Renaissance tools like a mariner’s compass and sextant.
But Professor Creamer, in the grip of an obsession that had held him for years, shunned even those newfangled contrivances, as well as a radio, a clock and a wristwatch. He chose instead to rely on his deep knowledge of the planet and its vagaries, and be guided by nothing more than wind, waves, the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night.
Under cloud-massed skies, he could divine his location from the color and temperature of the water, the presence of particular birds and insects and even, on one occasion, the song of a squeaky hatch.
[. . .]
His 513-day journey would entail nearly a year on the sea, plus time in ports for repairs and reprovisioning. It would take the Globe Star to Capetown, South Africa; Hobart and Sydney, Australia; Whangara, New Zealand; and the Falkland Islands off Argentina before its triumphant return to Cape May on May 17, 1984 — an event that Professor Creamer gleefully described as “one small step back for mankind.”
Along the way, he and his crew braved lashing storms and long, directionless days with no wind; found themselves trapped in shipping lanes amid thick fog and the terrifying horns of oncoming tankers; had whales bear down on them like freight trains; rounded the treacherous waters of Cape Horn entirely blind; were at one point pitched nearly upside-down and at another arrested.
“A jolly romp,” Professor Creamer called the whole thing.
In an era where so many of us don’t even want to venture out of our own homes without a fully-charged smart phone with a strong 4G LTE signal, here’s marveling at the sheer brass of a man who trusted the seas, the skies, his know-how, and his derring-do. I strongly recommend reading the rest of the obituary to learn of some amazing stories from that journey. But if you don’t, I want to at least leave you with what would be a fitting epitaph from the final lines of the obituary:
Professor Creamer continued sailing well into his 90s. In later years, he owned a boat that came equipped with global positioning technology.
He did not know how to use the technology, he said, and had no intention of learning.
Rest in peace, sir.