The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 13 -

Tall Ship and High Adventure

         In contrast to the momentous happenings of
         the day, our light hearted adventure in the
         Cap Pilar seemed a disappointing trivial affair.
         Two years ago we had looked upon our voyage
         as a gesture of defiance in a gloomy world. Now
         the gesture had assumed more the appearance
         of a facetious grimace.(l)

bark Olivebank boiled along at fifteen knots in the South Atlantic
bound for Australia. Out of the half gale in the distance, a cloud
bank thickened and then became the lonely pile of Tristan da Cunha.
At the rail, standing in the rain, stood two off-watch seamen and
good friends, Lars Paersch of Finland and Adrian Seligman of Wim-
bledon, England.
  Someday, Lars said, we will fit out a ship and visit Tristan da
Cunha, instead of sailing by.
  That, Adrian said, caught up in the idle romance of the moment,
we will do, Lars someday.
  On December 8, 1935, the last day of another voyage on another
ship, the Ramsay, one of those young sailors, Seligman, was coming
home, this period of his life over, another about to begin. Standing at
the rail as the Ramsay shouldered her way up the drizzly Irish coast,

   ~ 131 ~

he felt the warm fires of anticipation and new adventures in the pit
of his guts. He did not know what form the next period of his life
would take, but felt certain it would be brighter than the past six
years as a merchant seaman. And there was also Jane to come home
  Born in Wimbledon in 1910, Adrian recalled his first trip abroad,
to St. Jacut on a rocky island in the Gulf of St. Malo, with his
parents when he was four. The family stayed all summer. After the
war, in 1925, they rented a stone cottage near the fishing harbor at St.
Jacut which became a second home.(2)
  At age nine, Adrian went to prep school in Wimbledon. There he
became close friends with George, the headmaster's son, and with
George's sister, Jane. At fourteen, he was sent away to public school,
but, in 1929, again was reunited with his friends for a couple of years.
Then, suddenly, Seligman dropped out of school and went to sea. For
six years, he sailed on various ships, rose to get his second mate's
ticket, but still the future was not bright by this time, he was too
old in rank to make it in the merchant marines. His last ship was the
British tramp Ramsay, and at Vancouver, British Columbia, where
one of the officers had taken sick, he had paced the bridge as second
  Now, on this bitterly cold winter day, the northerly tore at his ears
and made his eyes water. But into view came Tuskar, Cahore, and
Wicklow Head, then Slieve Donard and the mountains of Mourne.
  Picking up his glasses, Seligman looked through the lenses at the
gorse-covered hillsides, and a great longing again welled up inside
him. He had left Cambridge six years before to gain experience to
become a writer. By George, now was the time to make the break.
  But, ashore again and reunited with his family, friends, and sweet-
heart, Jane, he found that Fleet Street would have none of him.
There was a depression on, jobs were scarce, money was tight, and on
the horizon the dark clouds of war had made everybody's future
  Then, unexpectedly, when he had given up hope of getting a shore
job, he fell heir to a legacy of 3,500 left by his grandfather.(3) At the
end of a long, weary day of tramping the city in search of a job, the
idea came to him. With 3,500 you can buy and outfit a small ship
for a voyage around the world!
  Adrian rushed to Essex, where his friend George was teaching.
With him was his fiancee, Jane. They talked over the idea, the three
of them. Caught up in the excitement of the adventure, George quit

   ~ 132 ~

his teaching job. Meanwhile, Adrian had written to Lars in Helsing-
fors, where the Finn was sitting for his mate's examination. Then
they all went over to St. Malo and tramped the waterfront in the
rain, looking over the derelicts for sale. One of them was the Cap
Pilar, a barkentine with green moss covering the rotting decks, smell-
ing horribly of bilge water, with fraying pieces of canvas hanging
from the yards.(4) They went elsewhere, searching the Brittany coast,
rented an old Citroen, and covered all the yachting centers, looking
at ketches and yachts.
  Meanwhile, they had placed an ad in the London Times for a crew
to sail to the South Seas, leaving in August. Six young men were
wanted, each required to have 100 to contribute toward expenses.
They were deluged with mail from erstwhile adventurers among the
youthful generation who saw nothing in the future but depression
and war. News reporters spotted the ad and sensed a story. The
newsreels picked up the story, too. The publicity made them celeb-
rities before they even had a ship to sail away on.
  This reaction was common in the 1930s. The Irving Johnsons were
on their first series of circumnavigation. The Martin Johnsons were
adventuring in exotic places. Dwight Long, Gerbault, Robinson, the
fun-loving Fahnestocks, Kauffman and Mefferd on Hurricane, Maury
on Cimba, Al Hansen, Vito Dumas, and a hundred or more anony-
mous adventurers were doing their thing. This was also the period
when John Hanna's famous Tahiti ketch appeared first on the oceans
of the world, the first truly practical and economical round-the-world
  They advertised in Lloyd's List. Adrian and Jane, married now, went
to Helsingfors and rented a cutter. For Jane's first boat trip, they sailed
to Stockholm to look for a schooner. In June, they returned to Eng-
land after weeks of furious activity. Still without a ship, they had
three hundred applicants for berths.
  They went back to Europe and searched every harbor north of
Brest. They tried Dieppe, Le Havre, Fecamp, Cherbourg. And,
finally, they went back to St. Malo and looked again at the Cap Piler.
This time, she looked better. It was summer and the leaves and
flowers were out. Everything looked better. Two days later, they had
the surveyor's report and went to the ship broker.
  Nous l'acceptons! Down upon the ship swarmed shipwrights, ship
chandlers, riggers, sailmakers. They promised to have the ship ready
in a month. Lars arrived from Finland. A family friend, the famous
seadog Commander J. R. Stenhouse, RNR, who had been master of

      ~ 133 ~

Shackleton's Discovery, came over to help with a crew of volunteers.
Finally, the great day came. A tug warped the Cap Pilar out from
the dock, and the first voyage, to England, began. It took five days.
Aboard were Jane's father, some volunteers, and many guests. In
London, the first nine crewmen were signed on. They included
Francis Newell, Willie March, John Donnelly, Alan Burgess, Pete
Roach, Alexander Drummond Sanson, Dr. Edmund Atkinson, Kurt
Romm, Alan Roper, in addition to Jane's brother, George Batter-
bury. They included a doctor, a biologist, an eighteen-year-old
teacher, a student, a laborer, and a gardener. The crew eventually
included a ventilating engineer, a solicitor, and an ex-paymaster in
the Royal Navy.
A News Chronicle reporter named Gelder was assigned to cover
the story full-time. He not only kept the story alive, but helped with
the outfitting and preparations. During the two weeks in London, the
publicity attracted the attention of the Tristan da Cunha Society,
which asked Seligman to carry a cargo of supplies to the islanders.
  On Tuesday, September 29, 1936, they were ready to leave and took
aboard the last recruit, Duncan McDonald, who had heard about the
voyage only that morning. He quit his job as a clerk in a shipping
office on a moment's notice.
  The following morning, at 11 A.M., the Cap Pilar departed. On
board as guests were Commander Stenhouse, Adrian's father, plus
the nineteen, including Gelder, the reporter. Off Plymouth, the pilot
boat came out and Adrian's father and Commander Stenhouse went
ashore. After an exchange of hearty cheers, the Cap Pilar filed away
for the open sea.
  Before they left London, the German army had marched into the
Rhineland. A passing German liner ignored their salute. In an atmo-
sphere of uncertain future but high hopes for adventure while it was
still possible, the crew of the Cap Pilar stood out to sea on one of the
most unusual voyages ever undertaken by amateurs.
  The route would take them down the Atlantic via the Azores and
Cape Verde, across to Brazil, back to Cape Town, down the Indian
Ocean slant to Australia, then to the Marquesas and to the west coast
of South America, up through the Panama Canal, to the West
Indies, then to New York, and finally home to England, arriving in
September 1938, two years after their departure.
  But it was not to be that simple. Few of the crew had any blue-
water experience. The Cap Pilar, in spite of the rebuilding, was in
pitiful condition, and leaked badly. It was too much ship for the

    ~ 134 ~

experience of the crew to handle. Only three knew anything about
navigation. The youngest was eighteen; the oldest, twenty-eight.
There was neither a radio nor engine aboard. The ship had been too
stiffly ballasted, and in the boisterous Bay of Biscay, she rolled and
plunged sickeningly.
  No sooner had they passed Eddystone Light when the first of a
series of gales struck. Great seas broke over the decks. Water poured
into the hold. The bilge pumps had to be manned constantly. Every-
one aboard was sick. At one point, the Cap Pilar went tearing along
at ten knots in the wrong direction.
  Somehow, everything held together and they sighted Porto Santo.
Ashore, they went sightseeing and forgot the miseries of the crossing.
They worked on the ship's ballast, tried out the waterfront bistros,
and took care of ship's business in the first foreign port. Then, in
better spirits, they sailed for Salvage Island.
  They visited Tenerife and Santa Cruz as the Spanish Revolution
started. Ashore, vigilantes were hunting down and executing commu-
nists. Even children were dressed up as soldiers.
  On October 27, they departed for Rio via Cape Verde, leaving
behind for a time all manifestations of impending war. By now, the
crew had acquired some experience and had gotten to know one an-
other. There were fourteen days of calms, then the ship began to
move. After forty-one days at sea, they rounded Cape Frio and came
in for a boisterous welcome to Brazil. It was now summer here.
  Life in Rio became frenetic. There was sightseeing, dancing, and
cheap food and drink. The German warship Schlesien was there at
anchor. The Rio Sailing Club, the English colony, and the Brazilians
took the crew to their hearts. Christmas came and went. Romm left
here, as did Payne, another crewman. Then, with a new crewman,
Jose, they departed for Tristan da Cunha, bringing news and supplies
to the lonely islanders.
  From there it was twelve days to Cape Town, where they arrived
on Monday, February 15. The crew took a week's holiday while
Adrian tried to figure out how to finance the rest of the voyage.
There was a crisis aboard. Jane was expecting their first child. There
was no more money. All 3,500 had been spent on the ship, plus
another 1,400 had been borrowed for stores and supplies. There was
dissension in the crew. The ship needed new sails to go on.
  To save harbor fees, it was decided to move the ship to Saldanah
Bay up the coast. It was a very rough passage that took five days (the
train trip took only one hour). In Simon Town, there was more

   ~ 135 ~

trouble. Jane might have to go home as soon as the baby arrived, but 
plans changed week by week. Four South Africans joined the crew, and
contributed 75 each. Roper disappeared to find a job on a farm.
They were kicked out of the hotel where they were staying for rowdy-
ism. Some of the crew took up with local girls and left. There were
garden parties and a wagon trek to the desert. Then suddenly came
an unexpected letter from England with money from home.
  The ship was readied for sea. The crew now included a 34-year-old
English photographer; a cadet from the Alan Villiers training ship
Joseph Conrad; an accountant; the son of the mayor of Cape Town;
a musician; and George Smith, fifty-eight, a pensioned chief petty
officer from the Royal Navy and instructor from the South African
training ship General Botha. Another recruit was Jack Ovenstone, a
seventeen-year-old boy, who came to the ship each morning in a
chauffeur-driven limousine.  
  The Cap Pilar left two weeks before Jane, who remained with
friends. She would follow later by steamship.
  On the passage across the Indian Ocean, they made 220 miles a
day frequently, with gale after gale. Many of the new recruits suffered
chronic seasickness, but the rough passage made sailors out of them.
They now had a piano aboard, and, on May 12, they celebrated the
coronation. During the stay in Cape Town, the planks had parted
and now much water got into the hold and ruined supplies. On May
28, after forty days at sea, they sighted Eddystone Rock off Hobart.
  They got a boisterous welcome at Sydney, where Jane met them at
the dock. There were newspaper headlines and much publicity. In
Sydney, Adrian and Jane enjoyed the happiest three weeks of their
marriage so far. The baby had not yet arrived. They decided to go on
to New Zealand. Ovenstone, the seasick lad, left to go home. Jose
also left ship here. Three new hands were taken on.
  On Monday, June 28, Cap Pilar picked up anchor and sailed out of
Sydney Heads for the passage to Auckland, nine days of close-hauled
beating. Jessica was born in Auckland, Jane having followed the Cap
Pilar aboard the American liner Monterey. The blessed event, on the
night of Friday, July 16, 1937, became a long-awaited celebration.
Adrian, Jane, and the baby moved into a little cottage in Mount
Eden. A friend loaned them a Ford V-8. On weekends, they took
trips into the country for picnics. 
  But another crisis arose. They needed money again. New contribut-
ing crew members were recruited. The crew, fed up with mountain
climbing, skiing, and sightseeing, became restless. A meeting was

  ~ 136 ~
called aboard to air grievances and complaints. With Jane and Jessica
aboard, a doctor was needed. A Dr. Stenhouse volunteered. He
brought not only money, but a small radio and 1,200 of the best New
Zealand eggs packed in waterglass.
  On Friday, September 17, they departed. The crew now numbered
twenty-eight, including Jessica, who was signed on as stewardess.
They now had a ship's newspaper, The Caterpillar.
  They sailed north to the Gambier Islands, Rapa, and the Mar-
quesas, reef crawling, beachcombing. At Nuku Hiva, they were met
by Bob McKittrick, the trader.(5) Jessica thrived on the life, but most
of the crew broke out with sores from the festering bites of the no-
nos. Dr. Stenhouse became depressed, and infected the entire ship's
company with the same mood. There were frequent quarrels. "The
curse of the Marquesas is upon us,"(6) wrote Adrian.
  Detouring past the Tuamotus, they nearly lost the ship in the tide
rips off a reef while trying to get into a pass. They made friends with
an American Mormon missionary from Inspiration, Arizona, and
spent Christmas at Hao with the natives, dining on roast corn beef,
potatoes, and a pudding from a recipe in an American magazine.
Jessica was happy and everyone aboard adored her. On Boxing Day,
1937, they left Hao for the long passage to Callao, Peru. On February
6,1938, they sighted the Andes rising in the east, forty-four days out
of Hao.
  At Lima, they made many friends and went sightseeing over the
Andes by train. The ship was infected with harbor fleas and harbor
thieves. Just before sailing for the Galapagos, Jane was stricken with
appendicitis and was taken ashore to an American hospital in agony
for an emergency operation.(7)
  George stayed behind with Jane and Jessica. The ship sailed on to
the islands. On the radio, they heard the news of the Russians at war
with Finland. There was trouble between Poland and Lithuania.
America was concerned. Japan regrets.
  At Wreck Bay, they were parted with 20 by the port officials.
They met the Cobos family at Progreso.(8) They explored some of the
islands. On April 5, they left. Crossing the equator called for a
ceremony. Then, on May 1, they reached Panama, went sightseeing,
and made the passage through the locks. Jane, Jessica, and George
arrived by steamer. During the two and a half months, Jessica had
grown surprisingly.
  From Panama, they had a stormy passage to Jamaica. There they
found much unrest among the blacks. On June 11, they left Montego

   ~ 137 ~

Bay and stopped at Grand Cayman to attend a ball in Georgetown,
where the Big Apple was the popular dance. Then came the skyline
of Miami. Jessica was now 11 months old, and the ship had traveled
3Z,500 miles at an average speed of 4 knots in 345 days at sea.
  In New York, they all got a warm welcome, but were upstaged by
Howard Hughes, who had just flown around the world nonstop and
was being given a ticker-tape reception up Broadway. There were
exciting times in the big city visits to Greenwich Village, to night-
clubs where they paid to see South Sea island girls dancing, Wall
Street, the zoo, night spots in Harlem. They liked the friendly open-
handed casual way of American life.
  Jane's sister, Mary, arrived from Canada. With the baby, Jane
went back to Canada for a visit. On July 25, the Cap Pilar went down
the Hudson, through the Narrows, and sailed to Halifax where they
picked up Jane and Jessica again. On August 14, they sailed from
Halifax with the magic words, "Falmouth for orders," on their
  The homeward voyage was through heavy traffic first fishing
boats, then military craft. On September 11, they sighted the Lizard
and at last gazed upon homeland after completely circumnavigating
the world.
  The headlines on September 24, when they arrived at London at
the East India Docks, blazed WAR AND DISASTER. Everyone was
caught up in the war fever. In contrast to their departure two years
before, their arrival was almost completely ignored by the press.
  But they were home again with twelve of the original crew still
aboard. The Cap Pilar laid up in London for the winter. Jane and
Jessica went to Wimbledon by car. In January, the ship was sold to
the Nautical College of Haifa and sailed there by Adrian's old friend,
Commander Stenhouse.
  Before they had left London in 1936, the Germans had started
their moves. On the dav of their return, off Brighton, they heard of
the Czech acceptance of compromises. Off Beachy Head, they lis-
tened to hourly news bulletins. Londoners were digging trenches in
the parks. Mr. Chamberlain was flying to Godesberg.
  The voyage of the Cap Pilar in the end became a sort of casualty of
World War II. Seligman's book, which he had planned to be his bid
for a journalistic career, was lost in the confusion of the times. Again,
his timing was unfortunate. Next he joined the brigantine Research,
then stationed at Dartmouth. On the same day, nine of the old crew
of the Cap Pilar also joined as Lars went back to Finland.

  ~ 138 ~ 

  In September 1939, Seligman was commissioned a sub-lieutenant
in the Royal Navy Reserve. He had a good war record, rose rapidly,
and when demobilized was a commander in rank on the Admiralty
staff. After leaving the service in October 1946, he published another
book, No Stars to Guide. By then, he and his wife had four daugh-
ters, the oldest of whom was Jessica, now a young lady of ten, born
during her parents' greatest adventure, grasping at the last shreds of
youth and freedom before the world plunged into the darkness of the
war years, after which nothing would ever be quite the same again.

  ~ 139 ~

 - end Chapter 13 -

To Chapter 14.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Thirteen 1. The Voyage of the Cap Pilar by Adrian Seligman (New York: E P. Dutton & Co., 1947). The book first appeared in 1939 in London under a British imprint. 2. The Seligman family has a large number of American relatives, including a family of New York bankers. 3. Bequests, expected or unexpected, were responsible for a surprising number of circumnavigations, or at least long voyages. Another well-known inheritance was that of the fun-loving Fahnestocks, who used the money to buy Director and start a world cruise. 4. The Cap Pilar measured 118 feet between perpendiculars, 27 feet beam, 13 feet deep in the hold, with a gross tonnage of 295. The main truck was 103 feet above the deck The foreyard was 50 feet across. Hardly the type of vessel for a crew of amateurs on a world cruise, but at least it made possible the signing on of a larger paying crew. A better choice would have been a North Sea pilot schooner, such as Warwick Tompkins and the Irving Johnsons chose, although the cost would have been considerably more. 5. Trader Bob McKittrick was probably the most familiar and yet mysterious character encountered by voyagers in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. He was mentioned as early as Voss and Muhlhauser. Most of the information on him is derived from tales he told visiting yachtsmen. Apparently, he was an old Liverpool shellback, who spent his early years at sea, and was put ashore ill on Tahiti about 1912 or 1913. Subsequently, he turned up as a beachcomber and trader at Nuku Hiva. His establishment still exists at this writing, run by his son, also a local character. 6. Voyage of the Cap Pilar. 7. This area of the world appears to be the Appendicitis Belt. It was here that Robinson went through his dramatic rescue after a burst appendix, and where the Irving Johnson crew suffered two similar emergencies. After passing through this area on the way to Honolulu on the last voyage of the Tzu Hang, Beryl Smeeton also was stricken with a similar emergency, for- tunately after they had reached port. There have been numerous other similar episodes. 8. As reported by practically every visitor to Wreck Bay, beginning with William A. Robinson who had a crush on her, Karin Cobos had married the son of the governor of the penal colony, who had been murdered by inmates. At the time of the Cap Pilar visit, she now had four children. On Robinson's last visit in the 1950s, the brood had grown to ten. She was the last of a party of three hundred Norwegians who had founded a colony in 1926.

To Chapter 14.

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