It’s Tall Ship Sailor Tuesday! We made it up, but we think it’s awesome. One of our favorite tall ship sailors (he and Raphael Semmes are probably tied for favorite) is Irving Johnson. If you’ve ever sailed with us, you may have heard us discuss his movie, Around Cape Horn. In it, he documents his sail around Cape Horn in 1929 on board the Peking,
a 377 foot steel hulled, four masted barque. If you haven’t seen it, please make the effort to get a copy – it is awe inspiring.
Well, onto Captain Irving. Irving McClure Johnson was born on July 4, 1905 on the family farm in Hadley, Massachusetts and began training for a sailor’s life as a teenager. Irving Johnson began his early career as a mariner, both in the Merchant Marine and as a private yacht captain during the summer. Beginning in 1924, Johnson sailed on 6 different vessels, completing his first circumnavigation in 1928. He would then set sail for his famous trip around the Horn on board the 345 foot barque Peking in late November 1929, a voyage documented in a film entitled “Around Cape Horn.” In 1930 he made another exciting voyage across the Atlantic as First Mate on board Shamrock V. His last job as mate came when he signed on the Wanderbird.
While aboard the Wanderbird, he met his future wife, Electa. After their marriage in 1933 they began a unique way of life. Sailing around the world in their own vessel, the Johnsons shared their skill and knowledge of the sea with a hand-picked crew of interested and enthusiastic amateurs. With Gloucester, MA as their home port, their vessel, the Yankee alternated between 18 month circumnavigations and 18 months of sailing trips on the Eastern Seaboard. With a crew generally composed of 4 girls, 16 men, 1 doctor, and a mate, the Johnsons sailed around the world seven times. In 1946 they purchased the German North Sea Pilot Boat, Duhnen. After
her conversion to a Brigantine, they resumed their sailing activities in their new Yankee, completing four additional circumnavigations (voyages four through seven,) during the next eleven years. In 1959, they built their dream ship, the 50′ ketch Yankee and the Johnsons cruised on her throughout Europe’s canals, waterways and seas.
A passionate educator, Capt. Johnson served as Trustee Emeritus of the Mystic Seaport Museum and Sea Education Association until his death in 1991. The Peking, the ship immortalized in his film Around Cape Horn, is docked at and maintained by the South Street Seaport Museum in New York.