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Sixteen And Alone At Sea

Category: General Article

Back to Youth Activities: Sailing

Have you ever fantasized about setting off to explore distant lands all by yourself? It’s probably a thought most people entertain, but only a few actually undertake. In 1965, Robin Lee Graham told his mom and dad he wanted a sailboat for his sixteenth birthday so he could explore the islands of the South Pacific. His parents provided the boat and three months later they were watching their son sail off into the Pacific Ocean with only two kittens for company.

Graham’s 24-foot sloop was called The Dove and it was not a vessel most would choose for a round-the-world cruise. Still, Graham was confident in both the boat and his abilities. With his father’s help, he had specially outfitted the sloop for travel long distances on the open ocean and, despite his age, Graham was an experienced sailor. In 1962 and ’63, Graham had accompanied his family on an extensive tour of the South Pacific and had learned all the basics of seamanship, including how to navigate by the stars (known as celestial navigation). Graham’s odyssey quickly drew international attention, especially when National Geographic magazine agreed to help finance the trip in exchange for his story. The magazine provided him with a camera and a dictating machine and ran regular updates on the journey, heralding Graham as the “teen-ager sailing the world alone.”

As glamorous as it might all sound, the journey was often physically and emotionally punishing for the teen. He desperately wanted to quit when he fell in love with a young woman he met in Fiji, and probably only his obligation to National Geographic caused him to carry on. After touring the South Pacific, Graham headed into the Indian Ocean, rounded the southern end of Africa and then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean Sea. Along the way, The Dove was battered by the elements, including having its mast broken at least twice during the voyage. Only Graham’s maintenance skills and several professional repair jobs along the way kept the sloop afloat.

By the time Graham reached the Caribbean in 1969, he had decided to replace The Dove entirely, as it no longer seemed sea worthy. He purchased a larger sloop and dubbed it Return of the Dove. It was this second boat which carried him through the remainder of his journey. The Dove continued to sail under various owners in the Caribbean until it was sunk in a hurricane in the mid-1990s.)

After touring the Caribbean, Graham passed through the Panama Canal and officially ended his adventure in Santa Barbara, California. Along the way, he had married his girlfriend and by the time they reached California they were expecting their first child. Because Graham did not sail back to his official starting point in Hawaii, there was some dispute as to whether he actually circumnavigated the globe. Regardless, the five year adventure was an amazing accomplishment for someone so young and it earned Graham his place in the history books.

Aside from the National Geographic features, Graham coauthored three books called The Dove (1972), The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone (1973) and Home Is The Sailor (1983). His epic journey was adapted into a movie called The Dove in 1974. You can learn more about Graham’s book titles by visiting the Oceanscape Network’s Goodreads page.

To date, eight teens from various countries have followed in Graham’s wake by circumnavigating the globe alone. The youngest was only sixteen upon completion of the journey.

Related Information: National Geographic’s Robin Lee Graham – The Dove Gallery | Youth Activities: Sailing | Youth Activities: Reading and Writing

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