Captain Harry Pidgeon

Tales of his life, adventures and legacy

Harry Pidgeon, Circumnavigator, Adventurer, Photographer
My name is Elizabeth Madrigal, and I am the grandniece of Captain Harry Pidgeon, the second man to circumnavigate the world in a motorless boat and the first to do this sailing westward.  His first sail lasted from 1921 to 1925 and he began his second successful attempt in August of 1934, becoming the first man to complete this feat twice.     

Harry began his adventures when he moved to California at 18, hiring on as a ranch hand.  While there he built a canoe but had no place to paddle.  He and a friend traveled to Alaska where he built another small boat and they traveled the islands there, although he never set out on 'blue' water.  His tales of the Alaskan gold rush days, his photos of the Sugar Pine area in the High Sierras and his returns to Iowa, all tell of his longing for both land and sea.  He built a flat-bottomed boat and rode it down the Mississippi River to the gulf, then abandoned it there.  He also took a ponycart from Mexico to the Canadian Border, purportedly 'just to see what it would be like'.

At one point he had a small ranch in Bakersfield, some land in Panama and a partial claim to the family farm in Iowa, but his wanderlust was his underlying motivation.  Once he built the Islander he lived on it and sailed or docked where it pleased him, living off the coast in Connecticut and in San Pedro or wherever else his fancy might lead him. 

With his Quaker upbringing he was cognizant that a family required great devotion and 'gentle nurturance' by the patriarch, and so I believe Harry never committed to this part of life.  He was very fond of other peoples' children, however, and was therefore a welcome guest in most families he met.  I'm not exactly sure when he met my great-grandfather, Captain Blanchard Gardner, but I know that by 1932 they were old friends.  Grandpa Gardner was a tolerant, loving person with children, as was my great-grandmother, Annie Wood Purdy.  Not only did they raise their own seven children, six of them were girls.  When they grew up and some had their own families, the children were always staying on Gardner's Island for summers, and my father and a sibling were regulars.

My father said that those summers were the best, most carefree days of his life.  Perhaps that is why when Uncle Harry describes his two world cruises in almost exactly the same words, I feel the veracity of his obsession.  Those of us who love the sea gladly never recover from this all-encompassing passion.  Gliding across the water, the sun or rain or fog unimportant, the water breaking on the shore, the endless horizon, it is understandable why Harry chose these. 

He was above all a humble ambassador of peace, acceptance, tolerance, kindness and gentility and with your help I hope to keep his memory and his amazing travels alive.

Parlez-vous français ?

Great news for those who speak French and would like to read about Uncle Harry's adventures on the Islander in their native tongue!  Author and mariner, Olivier Merbau, recently completed a French translation of Uncle Harry Pidgeon's book about his first solo trip around the world in the Islander, his 34 foot yawl.  The translation is titled, "HARRY PIDGEON Islander autour du monde en solitaire". You can order a paperbook from this publisher's link:

Olivier tells me that it is not yet available as an e-book, but he expects that will follow soon.  
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