Pioneers of Adventure

13 adventurers who chose a different course and inspired others.

August 13, 2010

Pioneers of Adventure

Captain Courageous
Treacherous weather, life-and-death decisions, and the sheer white-knuckle power of the Bering Sea have made “Deadliest Catch” a must-watch for any boater seeking serious armchair adventure. For one of the show’s stars, Captain Sig Hansen, the real adventure is not just hunting for king crab through dangerous passages and raging storms. Instead, it’s exploring his industry’s hidden past—and exposing it to the world for the first time.

“There’s only so many crab pots you can pull,” Hansen says. “So now it’s turned into being about the personalities of the captains and crew. It’s a neat little history lesson for the public. For years, this was a very low-key industry. It was almost clannish. Because of ‘Deadliest Catch,’ knowledge is exploding. And when you understand the history of something, you can get a broader perspective than you would ever imagine.”

In fact, despite the best efforts of the Discovery Channel to market him as a modern-day folk hero, Hansen doesn’t think of himself as a pioneering adventurer at all. That honor, he reserves for “the entire generation before me, the guys who went out in the wooden boats, the pioneers who truly risked everything without knowing it.”


Hansen further uncovers the stories of his own heroes in his new book, North by Northwestern: A Seafaring Family on Deadly Alaskan Waters. He calls it a tribute not only to his family, but to all the families of the crews who survived before his on the same unforgiving waters. The book recounts sea stories that even its author never heard before, until he took the time to sit down and ask his family and colleagues about the past, stories that he hopes will capture boaters’ imaginations as much as any adventure he ever has on “Deadliest Catch.”

“I can’t walk more than 20 feet on a goddam boat without somebody stopping me because they recognize me,” he says. “But with the book, this guy came up to me and introduced himself. He shook my hand, and he asked, ‘Will you do me a favor?’ He asked me to sign my book. That, to me, was more important than all the people who try to take my picture because of the TV show. I sincerely hope he reads the book, comes and finds me later, and tells me what he thinks.” -Kim Kavin

Sig Hansen was photographed by Derek Blagg in Ballard, Washington, on May 18, 2010.


Faith-Based Initiative
“The story all these years is that Tania was an 18-year-old going nowhere so her father offered her a choice, either go to college or take a boat and sail around the world by herself,” says Tania Aebi. “So Tania chose the boat— that’s the story people tell. It’s kind of the story—I mean that’s the back-of-the-book version. But I wanted to travel. It was fun. It sounded like a fun idea when I left. And then of course once I was out there it wasn’t always fun. But in the end I got a fun story to tell.” Aebi’s solo circumnavigation aboard her Contessa 26 Varuna was completed in 1987, and she recounted the tale in a book,_ Maiden Voyage_.

“The character in this whole story is my dad more than me,” she says. “I was just given a choice and I took it and muddled through as best I could until it was done, and had a great story to tell in the end. He’s the one that gave me this choice that not many parents would give kids.” Aebi quips that her father made his offer to get a difficult teenager out of the house. But Aebi’s perspective has changed.

“The thing that I realized with time and being a mother and having had the teenage thing is the biggest deal of all was my dad’s faith in me,” Aebi says. “That was a huge act of faith.”


Tania Aebi was photographed by Michael Williams in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 5, 2010.

Plastic Pirate
“The adventures are always driven, first and foremost by the cause,” says David de Rothschild, underway on Plastiki, a sailing vessel built from plastic bottles with a mission to call attention to the dangers of plastic waste. “And how we can maximize exposure for that cause. What is the most compelling way of telling that story? All of these adventures are driven by not only raising awareness but also working towards a solution.”

Keeping boat and crew together is a top priority. “Our main concerns were originally the boat: she’s not a conventional boat,” de Rothschild says. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on the vessel. We’re using new materials and unconventional flotation devices in 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles. Making sure that everybody is comfortable and injury-free…getting enough sleep and staying hydrated.”


While the environmental mission sounds high-minded, de Rothschild understands how to keep people interested. “It doesn’t have to be a chore,” he says. “It can be a swashbuckling adventure—it can be a lot of fun.”

For information, visit

David de Rothschild was photographed by Luca Babini aboard Plastiki on April 21, 2010.

Small World
Australian Jesse Martin completed an unassisted, nonstop circumnavigation of the globe at the ripe old age of 18 in 1999, but his advice works for any prospective adventurer: Don’t take advice. “I probably used to be more of a foolish adventurer. now I have better judgment on safety and efficiency,” says Martin, who blazed a trail followed today by a host of young voyagers. “I’m now more mature and realistic in my expectations— this happens to everyone as they get older. I still applaud foolish adventures because it’s the gateway to getting better at anything. I support young people attempting big ideas, because if it doesn’t work, their next one has a much better chance of working. Talking or giving advice means nothing—doing and failing means everything.”

Martin seems to be seeking the purest experience. “I’m about to sail [a Contessa 26] from Florida back to Australia,” he says. “I’ve owned four boats and they have progressively gotten larger with more problems attached. My experience now suggests that the only way to go sailing is on the smallest boat possible.”

For information, visit

Promise and Planning
“The name of the boat was always going to be Promise and it was only after discovering that no American had accomplished [a solo nonstop circumnavigation] as of yet that I put the word ‘American’ in front of the word ‘Promise,'” says Dodge Morgan of his 60-foot cutter. “But the boat was exactly the right solution for me. The circumnavigation solo record at the time that I went around was held by Philippe Jeantot and was 159 days and he did it on a boat that weighed something like 20,000 pounds. American Promise weighed 77,000 pounds. And that’s because Jeantot was a 30-year-old and I was 55. I told Ted Hood, the designer, if you give me an hour of sleep a night I’ll give you back a half a knot of speed.”

Morgan’s circumnavigation took 150 days. “The record fell to the boat—I just added persistence and planning,” he says. “I will clearly make the case that no solo circumnavigation had ever been done that was as well planned as mine.”

The voyages of Morgan’s life taught him a few things about himself. “I don’t think that you can be an adventurer or certainly a solo sailor if you can’t laugh at yourself,” he says. “A sense of humor or a sense of the ridiculous is probably as much of a required trait as any other.”

Sea Story
Facing the heaving waves of the north Atlantic fishing grounds, commercial swordboat captain Linda Greenlaw got famous when she received glowing mention in Sebastian Junger’s megahit book, The Perfect Storm. Back then she was making a living at sea. “That adventure was the biggest part of my life,” she says. “But telling about it was always fun when I came ashore. And now the telling about it has become the bigger part, not of my life, but of my livelihood.” Over the years, more books—seven in all, including the new Seaworthy—and a reality TV show have taken up most of Greenlaw’s time.

“I think it’s great if you’re interested to try [fishing], but it’s not for everyone,” she says. “It’s usually a little more than most people have in mind. When the new guy gets off the boat, he either loved it or hated it. There’s never anything in between.”

Greenlaw knows that feeling well. “You’ll have some kind of extreme reaction after an adventure,” she says. “If you’re not over the top one way or the other, it probably wasn’t much of an adventure at all.”

For information, visit

Dodge Morgan and Linda Greenlaw were photographed by Fred Field at Snow Island, Maine, on May 19, 2010.

Seeing the Sea
Herb McCormick, former editor of Cruising World, serves as a watch captain on the Ocean Watch, a 64-foot Bruce Roberts-designed steel cutter skippered by Captain Mark Schrader. Ocean Watch circumnavigated the Americas—including Cape Horn and the northwest Passage—to call attention to the interconnectedness of the waters that surround the continents and how intertwined our lives are with the sea.

“There’s a lot of debate about climate change,” says McCormick. “I’m not a scientist, I’m a sailor. But I do know that boats are traversing the Northwest Passage that couldn’t make it before.”

Ocean Watch’s mission is tied to the many people on the American coastline that derive their livelihood from the sea. “In Barrow, Alaska, the issues that are affecting a subsistence whaler, for instance, are very different than what the specific problems are for a fisherman in southern Patagonia,” says McCormick. “The problems between those two guys are very different but, at the end of the day, the way their lives are affected is very similar.”

“I have so much more of an appreciation for what the problems are in the ocean,” says McCormick. “And how much we have to really start to pay attention to this amazing resource that’s sort of out of sight, out of mind for so many people because they don’t get to go out—they don’t have the opportunity to go offshore.”

For more information, visit

Small Boat, Big Production
“We’d already had Nordhavns circumnavigate,” says Jim Leishman, partner and vice president of Pacific Asian Enterprises, builder of Nordhavn yachts. “But this was our smallest model. We wanted to upload daily reports and we would have [readers] go onto our website and follow this thing. We thought that it would be quite dramatic and be in real time and nothing would be edited. It would be breakdowns of all the stuff we dealt with. We were lucky throughout the process and stayed on schedule and it turned out to be probably one of the funnest things I’ve ever done.”

Leishman and a rotating company crew took the 40-foot production boat around the globe to set the record for smallest powerboat to circumnavigate. “It was just kind of a technical marvel in our minds of what a 40-foot modern little motorboat could do,” he says. “The idea of putting us on the Internet and letting everybody participate and educate our company staff, it all worked out.”

Keeping the crew safe was Leishman’s top priority. “We were at the Raffles marina in Singapore and we had our new crew there and we had two days of provisioning for the next leg,” says Leishman. “So I was talking to the harbormaster, and this guy had long hair and a big mustache and I was asking him about the security in the area and was there any problem? We’d heard about the pirates along the straits of Malacca. He said ‘Ah, don’t worry about it.” And I came back the next day and I asked him again and he said, ‘Listen, I used to be a pirate, they’re not going to bother you, they’re all after the commercial guys.’”

For more information, visit

Herb McCormick and Jim Leishman were photographed by Ed Carreón in Santa Barbara, California, on May 18, 2010.

Crowning Achievement
Filmmaker Sprague Theobald took his 57-foot Nordhavn Bagan from Newport Rhode Island through the northwest Passage with a crew that included members of his family— his son and two stepchildren—and shot footage for an upcoming film.

“It really hasn’t dawned on me yet what I as a person did,” says Theobald. “I could stand back and see that the boat and the crew did it but as far as taking a deep breath and saying what an accomplishment, it really hasn’t hit me. It’s hard because I’m still up there in so many ways, looking at the footage daily and working with it. It really did affect me in ways that I didn’t expect. And I think the bottom line is how lucky we were: First, to be able to do it, and second, to get through it.”

Bagan’s voyage was successful, though eventful: The boat was stuck in the ice pack for two days, and pushed toward a rocky shoreline. But even when the ice cooperated, Theobald had his mind on the details of the voyage.

“I can remember a couple of times my stepson saying ‘Why aren’t you smiling?’” says Theobald. “And I’d say ‘Actually I am smiling’ and he’d say ‘It doesn’t look like it,’ and I’d turn and laugh and I’d say ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ somebody said ‘What was the coolest thing you saw?’ At first, I’d say a polar bear or iceberg, but looking now, six months later, the coolest sight I saw came from being in charge: Everybody else having an amazingly good time and being just speechless at some of the sights. And that really was the payoff. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but if it goes right, it’s wonderful to know that you’re able to provide these other people with the experience that very few have ever had.”

For more information, visit

Grandfather to Thousands
“It started very early with me, although I didn’t sail early,” says Captain Bill Pinkney, now Master Emeritus of the Freedom schooner Amistad. “I didn’t start sailing until I was about 25 or so. But what started me was a book that I read in the seventh grade by Armstrong Sperry—the book was called Courage. It was about a young boy who sails off to the Polynesian islands and had this great adventure and sailed home a hero.” This heroic dream stayed alive in Pinkney, even as he navigated a corporate career. In fact, he left on a round-the-world cruise in his 50s and chronicled his adventure for thousands of schoolchildren via radio transcripts. But the experience drew some parallels with his corporate life.

“I was in marketing at Revlon…when 18 months was the life expectancy of a marketing executive,” says Pinkney. “If you didn’t produce you were on the street. But [on the boat alone], I’m in the situation where, if I don’t produce, I’m dead. The stress becomes an everyday thing. It becomes not a debilitating stress, and I wouldn’t want to say “invigorating”—but it’s a purpose-focused stress that gets you to produce intellectually and physically beyond the limits of your own expectations.”

Pinkney’s plans shifted as he prepared for his voyage. “I could show [kids] what you can do with your education—to fulfill a dream is the object lesson. And I was going to sail around the world through the Panama and Suez Canals and write to them. But it got out of hand. I ended up going around all five southern capes with a 47-foot boat instead of a 32. Instead of two grandchildren and a fifth-grade class in my elementary school, I ended up with 30,000 grandkids.”

For more information, visit

Runs a 10K
“I’ve lived two-thirds of my life on the boat since I retired, and the other third fixing it,” says Eric Forsyth, a yachtsman with extensive cruising experience who last year completed the Northwest Passage. “In fact I was just working it out recently. since the boat was launched, so it includes the time I was working, so just the summers, right up to now, I’ve averaged 10,000 miles a year, every year. It just happens.”

Forsyth is not seeking an island paradise. “After we lived in the Caribbean I’ve seen every damn beach I wanted to see, really,” he says. “I go more for the sailing. Even the places I get to, I only really enjoy remote places, high-latitude villages— I like to see how people live.”

For Forsyth, the fun is getting there. “I feel better at sea than I do on land,” he says. “I’ve never been seasick on that boat, ever, but on land I often get stomach pains. The crew often laugh because we get to port after two or three weeks at sea, and after two days I say: Time to move on.”

For more information, visit

_Sprague Theobald, Bill Pinkney, and Eric Forsyth were photographed by Eddie Berman in Stamford, Connecticut, on May 19, 2010.

No Stopping Now
“I have no idea what started me seeking adventure, maybe just going to sea at the age of 17 was a response to an urge to see more of the world and learn a profession that appealed to me,” says sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who completed the fi rst solo nonstop circumnavigation. “Seeing so much excited my curiosity and a desire to learn more.”

Knox-Johnston’s circumnavigation heads a long list of nautical accomplishments, including a fourth-place finish in the Velux 5 Oceans solo, around-the-world race at the age of 68 in 2007, and running the Clipper Around the World yacht races. “I think that seeking adventure, which means facing the unpredictable, teaches you to deal with sudden conditions,” he says, recalling his round-the-world voyage. “The most memorable threat I ever faced was a huge wave, probably 80 feet high, bearing down on my little boat in December 1968 on my way towards Cape Horn, and its crest was breaking. I was on deck and knew it would sweep the decks taking me with it. To avoid it, as I had no time to dash below to the protection of the cabin, I climbed up the rigging. The wave duly broke over the boat and for what seemed ages there was no sign of the boat beneath the water, just two masts and nothing else in sight for more than 1,000 miles. Then she shook herself and emerged. I dropped back on deck to discover the wave had knocked the main hatch open depositing a ton or more of water below. I spent the next 3 hours bailing out!”

For more information, visit

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was photographed by Eddie Berman at North Cove Marina in New York City on June 5, 2010.

Young Wanderer
Robin Lee Graham began a solo circumnavigation in 1965, when he was just 16 years old, aboard Dove, a Lapworth 24. “To take off, I think it was probably a big influence of my dad,” Graham says. “He packed the family up when he was 40 on a boat and read a book on navigation and we sailed to the south Pacific. And so after we did that, I was 13, and it’s pretty hard to stick around in school. School is pretty mundane and very uninteresting, and I guess adventure was in my blood.” Graham’s story was told in a series of National Geographic articles, a book, and a film.

Much of Graham’s cruising attitude was derived from that early graham family adventure. “For navigation my dad got the Primer of Navigation,” said graham. “And he read through that and went out and took 13 sights and all of them put us somewhere in China…and we took off and we left from Long Beach and 40 days later we’re heading for the Marquesas and hadn’t seen anything for 40 days. And we were wondering if my dad actually knew what he was talking about. One morning he got up and said ‘Well, if my calculations are correct, we should see Nuku Hiva at about 2 o’clock this afternoon.’ And so about 1:45 my brother yelled out ‘I see land!’ and confidence in my dad really soared.”

That casual confidence served Graham well on his own voyage. “Just go out and do your best—and prepare, find out what the negatives are and prepare for the worst,” he says. “In cruising you always want to try to oversize a little bit and just be cautious. I’ve noticed people that seem to really get in trouble are too anxious to get into port, and push their boat instead of reducing sail and taking it easy.”

Robin Lee Graham was photographed by Jennifer Arterbury in Kalispell, Montana, on June 10, 2010.


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