On June 23, 1928, William Albert Robinson and his little 32-foot ketch Svaap were part of a special class of three small ocean cruisers that started in the Bermuda Race. The class consisted of Svaap, Miladi (a Herreshoff cutter), and yawl Islander built by Harry Pidgeon (he had already circumnavigated the world single-handedly in it – second to do so after Joshua Slocum in oyster sloop Spray).
Islander won the class in seven days. Svaap arrived in 12 days after weathering what Robinson would later describe as “one of the greatest storms I’ve ever seen.” He would arrive after the fleet had returned home but considered this journey a successful sea trial of Svaap. Robinson continued on to live his dream of “sailing around the world in my own boat in search of remote islands, strange peoples, and the beauty of new landfalls.”
William Albert Robinson was 25 when he bought Svaap and her equipment with most of the money he saved as a textile engineer. He would fund the rest of the trip by writing articles and eventually a book. Svaap (“dream” in Sanskrit), was a John Alden ketch, design number 224-B, built in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.
After the Bermuda Race gale built his confidence in the ketch and himself as a navigator, Robinson equipped the vessel and chose a Bermuda boy, Willoughby Wright, as crew to replace his friends who had returned to college. Never in a hurry, they continued through the West Indies through the Panama Canal and made various stops in South America to the Galapagos Islands, where they spent some time before continuing on to Tahiti. Willoughby Wright left the ketch in Tahiti and Robinson took on Etera, a pearl diver, who stayed to the end of the voyage. Etera would have his own adventures, spending time in jail in almost every port.
Ketch Svaap spent six months in Tahiti and went on to cruise the South Sea Islands for two years before wandering on to New Zealand and New Guinea. They crossed the Java Sea visiting Singapore and ports in India. They went on to Aden, crossed the Red Sea and navigated the Mediterranean. By the time Robinson reached the French Riviera in July 1931, there were stories of pirates, friendly tribes of head-hunters, cannibals, and a Sultan among others. They stopped at the Canary Islands and from there sailed to North Carolina and then up to New York.
Pictured here is ketch Svaap on November 24, 1931 tied up at the yacht basin at The Battery in New York City. At the time, Svaap was the smallest vessel to sail around the world. Robinson was given a hero’s welcome at City Hall and in January was awarded the Blue Water Medal by the Cruising Club of America for a remarkable sailing feat.
In 1932, Robinson published 10,000 Leagues Over the Sea, chronicling his adventure. He went on to become a shipbuilder in Ipswich, MA, and later he moved back to his beloved Tahiti where he lived until his death in 1988.
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