The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 5 -

Hi Jinks on the Speejacks

            Man was never meant to dwell for a year and a
            half in a world measuring 98 feet by 16 feet,
            and if he sets out to do so he must be prepared
            to pay a price for the happy memories which
            will be his reward for the foolhardiness.(l)

adjusting to the post-Armistice economy and social upheaval, if not
to peace. In the United States, Red anarchists were being deported
by the shipload from Ellis Island. Troops were deployed along the
Mexican border as Americans were being killed by Villistas. President
Wilson had come home from Versailles broken in health and in
spirit by double-dealing and with less to show for his efforts than
the defeated but truculent enemy.
  Elsewhere, violence continued in Germany and Switzerland, where
Reds were fomenting riot and revolution, and a permanent League of
Nations had been empowered to maintain liberty and justice for-
ever. Insulin, discovered by Canadian doctors, made possible the
treatment of diabetes for the first time. Captain John Alcock and
Lieutenant Arthur W. Brown flew nonstop across the Atlantic in a
Vickers-Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland, most of the time
"upside down" in a heavy fog, making the 1,980 miles in 16 hours
and 12 minutes.
  It was the decade of the Flappers, rum-runners in the dry United
States, bow ties and Bearcats, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, speak-
easies and short skirts, Charleston and runaway inflation, shortages

   ~ 47 ~

of everything but bathtub gin, barnstorming thrill-seekers in war-
surplus Jennies and of circumnavigators in small ships.
  Joshua Slocum and John Voss had already done their thing. Jack
and Charmian London had already abandoned their Snark in the
South Pacific and gone back to their own paradise in Mill Valley.
Ralph and Mabel Stock and their friend, Steve, were on their way in
the piano-equipped Dream Ship. The quiet martinet, G. H. P.
Muhlhauser, was about to embark in his Amaryllis. Puckish Conor
O'Brien was having his Saoirse finished at Baltimore in Ireland, even
as the Civil War was ending. Captain Harry Pidgeon had completed
Islander on a Los Angeles harbor tide flat and was getting ready for
his world trip by making a shakedown cruise to Hawaii and back.
  In New York City, the summer heat wave of 1921 continued
fiercely into August, breaking all records, drying up reservoirs. The
first automatic telephones were being installed. Herbert Hoover made
a speech in Washington that was heard and seen in New York on an
experimental A.T.&T. apparatus called "television," but commercial
use of it was doubted by many experts in the industry.
  On August 21 a vessel named the Speejacks departed New York
with a crew of eleven men and one woman, outbound on what was
one of the most astonishing and unusual, if not entirely arduous
circumnavigations .
  Speejacks had been built by Consolidated Shipbuilding Company
of Morris Heights for a wealthy Cleveland and Chicago industrialist

and sportsman named Albert Y. Gowen and his wife, Jean, a charm-
ing and outgoing Texas beauty. Speejacks2 was the fifth yacht of this
name built for Gowen, each one a little larger and more elaborate.
She was built of wood, with teak decks and coppered bottom, 98 feet
overall by 17 feet wide and drawing only 6 feet of water. A typical
J. P. Morgan type of yacht, she had a straight stem, rounded fantail,
single dummy stack coming out of the deckhouse, a full-length
awning, and a mast on which a steadying sail could be set. Speejacks
was powered by two 250 horsepower Winton gasoline engines,
consumed about 2 gallons a mile at cruising speed of 8 knots, al-
though she had a top speed of 14 knots. Her fuel capacity was 5,000
gallons and Gowen had arranged for fuel dumps at strategic points
around the world. The problem was that Speejacks had a safe cruis-
ing range of only about 2,000 miles and some of the ocean passages
were nearly 4,000 miles long. But for a man like Gowen, this was just
another little challenge to be accepted.
  The yacht reflected Gowen's nature. Virtually a mini-ocean liner,
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she was a self-contained little world, equipped not only with the most
modern internal combustion engines, but with intercabin telephones,
an elaborate wireless communications system, electric heating, light-
ing, refrigeration, cooking, and ship-handling machinery. In addition
to the usual life-saving equipment, there was a large raft mounted on
the deckhouse top, and two small boats including a New England
  Provisions for months at sea were stored aboard, including fresh
meat, fish, and vegetables in the freezers and coolers. Every possible
item of luxury, convenience, and emergency was aboard including
two World War I machine guns in case they were attacked by
  The Gowens occupied one of the two luxurious cabins aft; the
other was taken by a party of guests that included Ira (Jay) J.
Ingraham and Bernard (Burney) F. Rogers, Jr., both of Chicago.
Ingraham was a professional motion-picture photographer who re-
corded the voyage on 100,000 feet of film. Rogers was an accom-
plished amateur photographer and a friend of the Gowens. In
Australia, another guest came aboard, Dale Collins, a friend of a
friend of the Gowens who became the expedition's official chronicler,
equipped with endless enthusiasm and admiration for the Gowens, if
not with much writing talent.
  The crew included Cal, the Australian wireless operator; Oscar,
assistant to the chief engineer, Jack, who had also supervised con-
struction of Speejacks; the navigator, Cap, also an Australian; Bert,
the moon-faced Belgian cook, who was afflicted most of the time with
seasickness; and Louis, a French sailor gone native on the beach in
Tahiti where they picked him up as a deckhand. For the first half of
the voyage, the captain was Jack Lewis, who even performed a mar-
riage ceremony (of doubtful legality) aboard ship.
  The sea tracks of Speejacks, as Collins called them, took the yacht
from New York to Panama via Jamaica; from Balboa to Tahiti, Fiji,
Samoa, Noumea, Australia, New Guinea, the Solomons, New Britain,
the Admiralty and Hermit Islands, Spice Islands, Celebes, Java, Singa-
pore, Seychelles, the Red Sea, Cairo, and Spain; thence across the
Atlantic by the southern route to the West Indies, Miami, and home
to New York.
  Flying the burgee of the Cleveland Yacht Club, Speejacks motored
34,000 miles and consumed 73,000 gallons of gasoline costing from 31
cents to $1.24 a gallon to become the first motorboat in history to
circumnavigate .
   ~ 49 ~

  The run to Jamaica was uneventful, although they just missed a
hurricane. At Panama, they encountered another and larger yacht,
the Aloha, owned by Commodore Arthur Curtis James of New York,
also making a famous circumnavigation. Alongside the Aloha, Spee-
jacks looked like a tender. The canal transit was made without
difficulty. In Panama, a Peruvian oil magnate tried to court Jean,
whom he thought was Gowen's daughter. Once through the canal
and tied up at the Balboa Yacht Club, their first problem faced
them the 4,000-mile passage to Tahiti with no refueling stops. How
was this to be accomplished? By obtaining a tow, of course. Gowen
arranged to have the U.S. steamship Eastern Queen take them in tow
so they would not have to burn any gasoline until they got within
range of a supply.
  Speejacks thus could also claim the longest tow of its kind in
history. A 10-inch manila hauser, forming a sling or cradle around the
entire ship, was used. This was attached to a 6-inch towing cable.
Although Speejacks was a superbly designed and built yacht, she was
tender and quick in a seaway. Under tow, she was even worse. The
3,400 mile tow was a nightmare from the start. Everyone was seasick
almost continuously, and no one became accustomed to the awful
motion. Cooking was virtually impossible. Meals became mere snacks
grabbed with one hand while hanging on with the other, eaten
merely to keep alive. At one point during some rough weather, the
Eastern Queen sent over a crew to adjust the rope cradle. They were
overcome by seasickness and the Speejacks crew had to finish the Job.
  They crossed the equator on October 3, during cold, squally
weather. A week later, a wireless message was intercepted with the
news that Speejacks had been lost at sea. The news made headlines
all over the world and caused much consternation at home. The
Eastern Queen dispatched a signal that all was well.
  About eighteen days out, the water supply ran low and the crew
was limited to a gallon a day.(3) On the twenty-first day, the Eastern
Queen notified Speejacks on the wireless that she was about to
release the tow rope and make for Takaroa. The Winton engines
were started, and the Speejacks got underway on her own, hoping for
an easy hundred-mile run to replenish water tanks. Only twenty
gallons of distilled battery water remained on the yacht. But, at
midnight, the rudder cable broke and an emergency tiller was rigged.
In the morning, Takaroa appeared on the horizon. The party found
much hospitality here, but no water. They were entertained with

    ~ 50 ~

dancing, singing, and a roast pig. Among the visitors was the famous
schooner Roberta and Captain Winnie Brander. Burney Rogers and
Jean demonstrated the latest Broadway dance steps on the beach
under Speejacks's electric lights, to the tune of the latest music on
the gramophone records.
  The 250 miles to Tahiti were made without water. There the
captain took time to marry a couple. The bridegroom was the father
of a well-known American baseball player, and the bride the divorced
wife of a local gentleman who also was the best man at the wedding
and gave the bride away. The reason for the shipboard wedding was
French law, which prohibited remarriage within six months. After
the wedding, a huge party was given for everyone at the home of the
  Speejacks left Tahiti for Pago Pago on the same day that 200
townspeople gathered to watch a Chinese being beheaded, which
rounded out the entertainment during their stay there. The 1,300-
mile passage to Samoa was a rough one, during which green water
was taken over the ship and the electric system drowned out temporarily.
  The next leg took them to Fiji and past Good Hope Island,
otherwise known as the Tin Can Island.(4) In Fiji, everyone went
sightseeing in earnest. During the eleven days there, they spent ten
days on a canoe trip up the Wainibuka River, each night stopping at
a native village and eating native food. They witnessed the fire walkers
of Bequa, dined on turtle flippers, drank kava, and were entertained
by native chiefs who had been educated in Europe.
  Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, came next, after an 800-
mile rough passage, with the crew landing on New Year's Day. Here
they found Jack London's Snark, now a dirty and neglected island
trader.(6) The party noted that the island was overrun with deer, which
were hunted wholesale. The government even paid a bounty on them.
  The next stop was Australia, where Dale Collins joined the cruise.
From Sydney, the yacht meandered along the coast of Queensland
for a thousand miles. Many stops were made to explore ashore where
they met hermits and aborigines, and beachcombers on the famous
Dunk Island. On March 12, they turned through Cook Passage and
headed for New Guinea, making Port Moresby their first landfall.
  Here they all joined in adventures among the pearl divers, and
visited savages living among the mangroves, missionary stations, and
sticky Australian plantations. Up the coastline of Papua, they cruised,
stopping to fish and explore. Leaving New Guinea waters, they sailed

  ~ 51 ~

for the Trobriands through unmarked and uncharted reefs. After two
days, they reached these "isles of pearls," a romantic, lovely, and
mystical paradise guarded by reefs and great sharks. They reached
Rabaul in New Britain at Easter. At Maron, north of the Admiralty
Islands, they celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Anzacs at
Gallipoli with four ex-soldiers aboard to help them. The party was
held in the tropical palace, built by the German Pacific millionaire,
Rudolph Wahlen, in prewar days.
  Next came Hollandia, the cosmopolitan city in the Dutch New
Guineas of the Southwest Pacific." During their visit, the Bird of
Paradise boom was on, and these gorgeous birds were being hunted
down and exploited. Two pounds each was the going price for these
beautiful golden-brown and rare creatures. Many of the Dutch
colonials they met had not seen Europe or their homes for more than
thirty years, but still held on rigidly to their "civilized" old country
  For the trip to Ambon on the island of Ceram, they had a fuel
supply of only 2,080 gallons the exact amount calculated to reach
their destination without refueling. They tried to get a tow from a
Dutch ship, but were quoted a price of 500. Running on one engine
to save fuel, they started out. On the eighth day, they reached Ambon
with a margin of only 100 gallons of fuel left.
  Here, for the first time, they entered a different world one of
spices; Malays in bright sarongs; Arabs in gold-topped, round white
hatchs; bearded Indians; Chinese riding bicycles in their "pajamas";
bullock carts, and a river of humanity with all the smells of the
ancient Orient. Among these odors, Collins commented, were those
of spices, drying fish and smoke, and the "distinctive smell of
coloured peoples."
  Here they found the Dutch masters, living in the colonial splendor
of three hundred years of rule the social routine of afternoon
siestas, evening drives in the country, whist clubs, drinking beer and
gin at the clubs, dances and concerts, entertaining on the wide
verandas of their baronial cottages, dining late at nine or ten o'clock.
They found the Dutch colonials to be great eaters, starting at six A.M.
with a breakfast of sausage, snacks of cold meat, spiced tidbits; later,
riz tafel or rice table was served at midday, with dozens of native boys
waiting upon them carrying plates of stewed meats, curry, salted and
smoked fish, boiled fowl, chutneys, bread made from prawns and
batter, spices that burned like hot coals. In the evening came another
riz tafel, and then the main banquet.

  ~ 52 ~

  Next came the Celebes, the great whirlpools of the Malay Straits,
and a visit to the sultan of the fairy kingdom of Bouton, the Portu-
guese colony of Makassar where the richest man was a Malay who
lived in native fashion although he owned a fine home and the
greatest landowner was a Chinese whose father had arrived there as a
  The Dutch, they found, were the merchants, importers, and ex-
porters, and the Chinese were the middlemen and the gamblers. The
natives were the producers.
  Next came Bali, with its lovely bare-breasted women, where much
time was spent ashore exploring and enjoying the local scene. Then
they headed for Java and at Surabaja they missed their mail because
of the Dutch law which did not permit holding mail more than thirty
days. They did find a few registered packets waiting which had just
arrived, however. The crew and guests of the Speejacks were glad to
leave this noisy, greedy, raucous commercial port, but first the yacht
had to be drydocked, recoppered, fumigated and the engine over-
hauled. In spite of frustrations with incompetent workers and broken
promises, they accomplished this but only with the influence, finan-
cial resources, and energies of the owner. While the work was going
on, they visited the health resorts in the mountains and made train
trips to inland cities. Gowen, the financier, marveled at the huge
profits of the sugar barons. Some plantations made three hundred
percent a year; an average profit return was fifty percent.
  The party also took in Singapore in the Straits Settlements, and a
motor trip was made to Batavia. When Speejacks sailed again, she
was spotless in gleaming white, her cockroaches were gone, a bent
propeller shaft had been straightened, and the valves ground on the
  "You leave Java behind," Collins wrote, "with a feeling that, in
company with the rest of the Orient, there is a growing unrest here.
Gandhi's preachers from India have made their appearance, and
there is much talk of Java for the Javanese. It is the same problem
that Britain is facing, but the Dutch have neither the power nor the
prestige of Britain with which to stem the tide. They have no easy
task in the management of this small island with a population of 35
million, but they seem to be fair and far-sighted rulers."(7)
  The Gowens had hoped to go from Colombo to the romantic
Seychelles, where the Vacuum Oil Company had agreed to dump
fuel supplies, but at the last minute no ships were available. After
weeks of uncertainty, a sailing schooner was dispatched from Mauri-

  ~ 53 ~

tius with fuel supplies,(8) and they were able to cross the Indian Ocean
before the monsoon season. They sailed out through the Banka
Straits into the China Sea without Bert, the Belgian cook, who could
not take the seasickness any longer and left in Singapore. That night
they crossed the equator for the second time, played a concert on the
gramophone over their wireless to the shore stations listening, and
entered the crowded shipping lanes filled with lumbering junks, fleets
of sampans, and ships of all flags. Much as they disliked some of the
colonial ports, they spent much time visiting and being entertained
by the Chinese millionaires of Singapore.
 They called at Sumatra, the port of Belawan Deli, again finding
the Dutch colonials to be a strange bunch just as have other
voyagers in small vessels since then. But Sumatra was clean, orderly,
and prosperous for the Dutch, if not the natives. From here, Spee-
jacks returned to Singapore and Batavia for supplies and fuel. They
took aboard 3,200 gallons of gasoline and carried 300 cases on deck,
making a total of 6,200 gallons for the 3,100 miles of ocean they must
cross. Five tons of water went into the tanks and the pantries were
jammed with food.                                                      
 A large crowd saw them off, and on board were three new pas-
sengers: Fleurette Finnigan, Peggy O'Neill, and Michael three
monkeys given them by friends. Also aboard was Charlie, a Chinese
cook who replaced Bert.                                       
 Starting out running on one engine to conserve fuel, they found
that they could make six knots this way. A strong southeast trade
wind helped them on the way, but the seas were on their quarter and at
times the wind and waves were boisterous. Then they rigged a steady-
ing sail. Chasing the sun, they headed across the Indian Ocean. The
new pets aboard became increasingly annoying, and after much de-
bate the monkeys were chloroformed and their bodies committed to
the sea.
 The days and weeks passed. They averaged about 175 miles a day.(9)
In the Seychelles, they found their shipment of fuel waiting. After a
short stay here, they continued to the Red Sea, stopping at Aden to
explore ashore. At Port Sudan, they stopped to refuel again, and then
spent eleven days making the 1,400-mile passage, burning 4,700
gallons of fuel. With a pilot, they passed through the Suez Canal to
Port Said; then it was on to Alexandria, where the party made a fast
visit to Cairo and visited the pyramids.
 In the Mediterranean, they visited Greece, where Gowen threw a

    ~ 54 ~

party for seven that cost only $3.86. In the Corinth Canal, that
ancient slot built in A.D. 67, they went aground and nearly met with
disaster. But they found the Adriatic blue and beautiful, and passed
Scylla and Charybdis without seeing any monsters. At Naples, A. Y.
bought a Fiat at a bargain price, and while the yacht proceeded to
Marseilles, he, Jean, and Jay motored via Rome, Genoa, and the
Riviera. At Monte Carlo, A. Y., the high-roller, began losing. He was
implored to stop, but he kept betting on 35 and 26, the latter because
it was the Broadway address of the Standard Oil Company. Finally,
number 26 began winning. A. Y. doubled his bets. The bank notes
on the number began to pile up. Next he played 35 again, and again
the bank notes began to pile up. At that moment, when spectators
who had crowded around to watch the action thought he would go
on to break the bank, the Yankee millionaire exercised his unique
instincts and quit. He had won enough to pay for the car and the
entire European portion of the voyage.
  A call was made at Barcelona, where A. Y. and Jean were horrified
at the killing of bulls in the bullfights, although the matadors, 
including Del Monte, the idol of the period, were personally 
presented to the Gowens.
  From Spain, they went to Gibraltar, stopping to entertain the men
of the U.S.S. Pittsburgh, which was in port. Then the course was
joyously set for home, with a rough run to the Canaries, during which
the Speejacks was again reported lost at sea. The 1,500-mile run to
the Cape Verde Islands was made in the worst gale of the entire
voyage. There 6,000 gallons of fuel were put aboard. Fortunately, the
crossing was a mild one, what with the huge deckload they carried.
The 2,600-mile run to Puerto Rico proved to be easy. At San Juan,
the yacht tied up to American docks for the first time since Pago
Pago. They picked up hundreds of letters and telegrams from friends
and family, and then continued on to Miami, which they had not
seen for sixteen months.
  As far back as New Guinea it had been decided that Thanksgiving
would be spent in America, and the timetable had that in mind. At
Gibraltar, A. Y. had cabled a friend, Carl G. Fisher, offering to bet
that Speejacks would arrive within an hour of 10 A.M. on Thanksgiv-
ing Day. Fisher declined to wager. The yacht actually arrived 
at 11:15 A.M.
  A large fleet turned out to welcome Speejacks to the Flamingo
Dock. Sirens, whistles, and flags flying greeted the voyagers. The

   ~ 55 ~ 

thousand-mile run uphill to New York was made in heavy and bitter
cold weather, but they arrived on December 11, again receiving a
tumultuous welcome.
  A. Y. was heard to remark: "I wouldn't have missed it for any-
thing, but I wouldn't do it again for a king's ransom!"
  Jay had taken 93,000 feet of film, all but 300 of which was con-
sidered good footage. Total mileage was 34,000; total fuel, 73,000
gallons. The Winton engines performed flawlessly, requiring only
valve grinding. Replacement parts included only one leather washer,
costing 15 cents.                     
  As Speejacks lay at the New York Yacht Club dock, her guest book
was full of names from more than a hundred exotic ports, and her
bright work showed the effects of sun and sea from three oceans.
  How much did the voyage cost? A. Y. remained close-mouthed
about this. All he would say was that it cost a great deal more than he
expected. But he could afford it. Taking a vessel of this sort around
the world in those times, in spite of his resources, was a remarkable
feat, and it was surprising that so little difficulty was encountered.
The voyage of the Speejacks was important, not only because of this,
but for the era she represented, which was coming to an end in the
aftermath of World War I.
  Moreover, she proved that you don't have to be a penniless
dreamer or a dropout from conventional society to sail around the
world in your personal dream boat. Even millionaires can do it, and
have fun, too.

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 - end Chapter 5 -

To Chapter 6.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Five Sea Tracks of the Speejacks by Dale Collins (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1923). 2 "Speejacks" was the college nickname of Albert Y. Gowen. He was educated at St. Paul's School and at Harvard. His primary business was cement, in which he had made a wartime fortune, but he also had other substantial business interests He was a well-liked man, not the least pompous or imperious who enjoyed life and wanted to get the most out of it. 3. Most bluewater voyagers in smaller sailing yachts have found that a half gallon a day per person adequately supplies crew needs. 4. Tin Can Island was a famous tourist attraction. Here, passing ships delivered the mail by placing it in sealed cookie cans, which the natives would swim out and retrieve. They got to keep the cookies, while the mail was delivered to the addresses. 5. The circumnavigation of the Snark, while ill-conceived and exe- cuted, would have become one of the most famous in history had not the famous author and his wife become ill. On this voyage, the crew included a young man named Martin Johnson, who later became the famous explorer with his wife, Osa. Years later, young Dwight Long, in Idle Hour, met the John- sons in the East Indies while on his circumnavigation. 6. William Albert Robinson on his circumnavigation put into Hol- landia desperate for supplies and funds from home. He found the port almost deserted. Most G.I's will remember it as a huge supply port and staging area in World War II. 7. These were prophetic and surprisingly perceptive words. Later events dramatized the changing social and economic order but not until a quar- ter century and World War II had come and gone. 8. Gowen was a large stockholder in Standard Oil Company, which simplified his fuel problems considerably. 9. A speed of 175 miles a day for a twin-screw motor boat of 98 feet length cannot be considered even average. Most well-founded sailing yachts of much smaller waterline length can equal or surpass this.

To Chapter 6.

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