Sailors, Ships, and Shore Mates from the Great Lakes to the Great Barrier Reef
Two Rival Captains Challenge the Atlantic Ocean in Small Boats
Two American mariners, separately challenged the Atlantic Ocean with their small boats and together, decided to make their voyage from Boston to Lands End in England, a competitive race. They and their acclaim of being the first small boats to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
William Albert Andrewsand Josiah Lawlor knew the Atlantic intimately enough to appreciate its dangers, but the adventure and challenge of sailing a small twelve foot boat across the Atlantic overcame their caution. The two captains and the two small boats left the Ocean Pier near Boston on June 17, 1891, just before dark. More than 28,000 people wished them bon voyage. Captain Andrews and Captain Lawlor set sail together, but they finally lost sight of each other and faced the vast Atlantic alone.
Captain Andrews Falls Short
People called William Albert Andrews captain, although he had never studied navigation or passed master’s exams. He had learned sailing by hands on experience and he had tackled and tacked the stormy Atlantic several times before. In 1888, Captain Andrews set off in the 12’9”DarkSecret, but he didn’t make it to England.
On July 24, 1891, Captain Thomas Morgan, master of the steamshipSobraon,which was on its course from Liverpool to Baltimore, spotted a small boat with its sails set. Believing that the boat held shipwreck survivors, Captain Morgan bore down on the boat. He discovered to his astonishment that the boat held just one man. The man explained that he was Captain William Albert Andrews of theMermaidand that he was racing a ship called theSea Serpent from Boston to Land’s End, England. He said that he had been at sea thirty days.
Captain Morgan calculated theSobraon’s position to be north latitude 42 degrees, 50 minutes West, longitude 50 degrees, 12 minutes ,which meant that theMermaidwas about 2,146 miles from Land’s End, England.
Captain Andrews asked Captain Morgan to forward his log book to theBoston Herald, which he did. Captain Morgan reported that Captain Andrews was in good health and good spirits, and had everything he needed.
Captain Andrews reported that a shark had been following the Mermaid for several days and that when she made fast to theSobraon, the two pilot fish escorting their respective sharks, swam under theMermaiduntil she again set sail when they resumed their leading positions.
On August 14, 1891, the BritishsteamerBarrowmore,bound from Baltimore to Liverpool passed Kinsale and signaled that on August 10 she had spoken to an American at sea. The American was Captain Andrews in his doryMermaidwho stated that everything was well with him. He remained optimistic even after he learned that Captain Josiah Lawlor and theSea Serpenthad defeated him badly in the race .
The Sea Serpenthad arrived at Coverack, near Lizard Point on the English Channel on August 5, 1891. In the meantime, Captain Andrews and theMermaidhad capsized several times and finally he asked theElbruzfrom Antwerp, Belgium to take him onboard. He arrived safely in Antwerp and sold the Mermaid for a tidy profit.
Captain Josiah Lawlor and the Sea Serpent Win The Race
In August 1891,Captain Josiah Lawlorand theSea Serpentarrived at Coverack, near Lizard Point on the English Channel, after 45 days at sea. He won his race with Captain Andrews, and he told countless exciting stories about his adventures. Like Captain Andrews, Captain Lawlor had close encounters with a shark. On the night of July 24, 1891, he had fastened his rudder ropes and fallen asleep. Suddenly, a grinding noise jolted him awake. Peering over the gunwale he saw a shark rubbing against the boat. He had dealt with so many sharks during his voyage that at first the shark’s presence didn’t bother him, but then he noticed that the shark had started to gnaw the stern out of the boat.
Captain Lawlor pondered his situation. He had a harpoon, but he was afraid if he used it, he would lose it. He tried to lash a knife to the harpoon so he could stab the shark without losing his harpoon, but he didn’t have time to maximize his weapon because the shark’s powerful jaws were almost crushing theMermaid.Captain Lawlor grabbed his patent yacht signal which consisted of an explosive like a Roman candle. He wrapped the yacht signal in a newspaper, lit the fuse, and threw it overboard at the shark. As soon as the parcel hit the water, the shark let go of the boat and swam for it. Just as the shark seized the tempting package, it exploded much to the detriment of the shark.
Less than two weeks later, theSea Serpentarrived safely in England and shortly after that Captain Andrews made his way to England to rejoin Captain Lawlor. The two rivals planned another race to take place the next year.
Captain Andrews and Captain Lawlor Continue Their Rivalry And Their Voyages
Captain Andrews and Captain Lawlor decided that their rematch race would take place in the summer of 1892, and the course would run from Cape Race, Newfoundland, to Queenstown, the United Kingdom, a distance of 1,800 miles. They spent the winter preparing and Captain Lawlor set out in the summer of 1892 in his 14’6” boatChristopher Columbus.
An article by Frederick A. Talbot in the British magazine, the Strand, quotes Captain Andrews describing the fate of Captain Lawlor. “Lawlor, anxious to reap primary honors, started on his trip before I was ready, but he never reached his destination, for he was never heard of again. His tragic end did not deter me from my purpose, and so I set out on July 20, 1892.”
On July 20, 1892, Captain Andrews navigated his 14’16”Sapolio,an American flag fluttering at the bow, across the Atlantic Ocean from Newark, New Jersey to the Azores and then to Portugal, sailing a distance of over 2,500 miles in 35 days. Then he made his way up the coast to Spain, visiting the Spanish towns of Huelva and Palos in commemoration of the departure of Christopher Columbus for the New World, 400 years before.
The people of Spain turned out to welcome Captain Andrews in enthusiastic crowds. Captain Andrews especially recalled one incident when a Spanish gentleman asked for his picture and he reached in his wallet and handed the Spanish gentleman five pictures so he could pick the one he liked best. The Spanish gentleman thanked him and made off with all five pictures. Captain Andrews said, “I thought he not only took the cake, but the wind out of me at the same time!”
Captain Andrews and theSapolioset a record for the smallest boat crossing that stood for 73 years. Again in 1898, he tried the trans-Atlantic crossing in the 13’Phantom Ship, but failed after 27 days at sea. He shortenedPhantom Shipin 1899 to 12 feet and renamed it theDoree, because superstitious mariners told him that the Phantom ship had failed to make the crossing because of its 13 feet dimension.. After three weeks at sea, he had to terminate the crossing.
In 1901, Captain Andrews and his new bride attempted another Atlantic crossing aboard theFlying Dutchman.In an ironic twist of the fate of Captain Josiah Lawlor, Captain William Andrews and his new bride were lost at sea.
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Photograph courtesy of the Ecorse, Michigan Rowing Club.