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Extreme Navigator Marvin Creamer Found Ireland a Helpful Connection

19th August 2020
Globe Star, which the late Marvin Creamer sailed round the world without any orthodox navigational equipment between 1982 and 1985, became part of the Irish Cruising Club fleet in 1986. She is a Ted Brewer-designed steel-built Goderich 36. Globe Star, which the late Marvin Creamer sailed round the world without any orthodox navigational equipment between 1982 and 1985, became part of the Irish Cruising Club fleet in 1986. She is a Ted Brewer-designed steel-built Goderich 36.

When Marvin Creamer sailed his robust Ted Brewer-designed Goderich 36 steel cutter Globe Star round the world in 1982-1985, the now-cliched habit of describing any extra-special form of activity as "extreme" was still only in its infancy. Yet by any definition, it is if anything an understatement to describe Marvin Creamer – who has died in North Carolina at the age of 104 – as an "extreme navigator".

His global circumnavigation south of all the Great Capes was completed entirely without recourse to any modern method of navigation, not even a compass and even unto doing without a ship's clock. Admittedly at his wife's insistence he did have "modern" kit like sextants and other gear aboard. But it was all in a sealed box kept in the bilge, and when he and his crew returned the seal was unbroken.

Ever since his first experiences of sailing in childhood, he had developed the dream of making long voyages relying entirely on personal straightforward observations and sensations of the sun, the moon, the stars, the flight of birds, the movements of sea creatures, and the state, colour, temperature and wave movement of the sea itself.

Ireland came into this, for he referenced the voyages of St Brendan and others sea-exploring Irish monks, and his first Transatlantic voyage – in 1978 – was from the US to Ireland. His experiences on these early voyages in overcoming gear failure and equipment breakdown strengthened his resolve to do it all by a very different philosophy.

But he was a busy man in professional life, building up a university professorship in geography and oceanography, while also having – as his son Kurt puts it – "at least 50 distinctly different hobbies on the go at any one time". Thus it wasn't until after his retirement from the day job that he was able – at the age of 68 – to set off on his extraordinary venture in 1982.

At the time, it was remarked that his age in starting this challenge would surely militate against him. But as we've learnt in the intervening 38 years, in reality Marvin Creamer was only getting going once he'd released himself from the bonds of everyday working life, and he continued to sail actively until he was 95.

As for that extraordinary gizmo-free voyage of 1982-1985, it was far from incident and breakage-free, but he and his crew (which changed from time to time as the project wasn't non-stop and some ports were visited) were able to overcome the problems, for by this stage they were becoming accustomed to doing without anything so basic as clocks, though they did have a sand-activated hour-glass in order to put a proper temporal structure on watch-keeping.

Marvin Creamer sailing on Globe StarMarvin Creamer sailing on Globe Star. All we know about this photo is that it wasn't taken during his unique circumnavigation, as he is wearing a wrist watch

They didn't even see Cape Horn owing to poor weather, but Creamer rightly reckoned he'd passed it as he sensed a change in the feeling of the sea, and he was right – so right, in fact, that they made a successful landfall on the Falklands, which others with full navigational equipment have been known to miss.

In all, it was a venture which touched a special chord in the American pioneering psyche. For although there were those who said it had been a reckless project, there were very many more who were delighted by the outrageous sense of total achievement of the whole marvellous business, and in 1985 he was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.

Yet having done so much with Globe Star in three action-packed years, it may well be that Marvin Creamer sensed that any follow-up would feel like a come-down, so he quietly let it be know that she was for sale.

It was at this stage that Ireland re-entered the picture. Billy Smyth of Cultra on Belfast Lough was a longtime member of the Irish Cruising Club who, on taking retirement in 1982, had set off to wander both sides of the Atlantic with his Freedom 40 cat ketch Velma. With various crews at different times including his twin brother Bryan on board, he'd covered the entire length and breadth of the Mediterranean, and then made the crossing to the Caribbean.

Billy Smyth of Cultra on Belfast Lough – having sailed westward across the Atlantic with his Freedom 40 Velma, he later returned in 1986 sailing Globe Star. Billy Smyth of Cultra on Belfast Lough – having sailed westward across the Atlantic with his Freedom 40 Velma, he later returned in 1986 sailing Globe Star. Photo: W M Nixon

It was in 1986 while making his way up the East Coast of America that Velma came into a marina and Billy found himself berthed near Globe Star. By this time, while well aware of the highly-individualistic Freedom 40's virtues, he knew only too well that in trying to get to windward in a lumpy sea, the enormous weight of the unstayed foremast right in the eyes of ship tended to make her hobby-horse and make poor progress, and he was minded to make a change to a more orthodox boat.

Yet in America, the Gary Hoyt-created Freedom 40 was very highly regarded, so selling Velma was no great challenge. Which was just as well, as Billy Smyth has fallen for the no-nonsense Globe Star. He soon had her bought, and having sailed westward from Europe in one boat, he returned in another, and from 1986 until Billy Smyth's death in 2003, Globe Star was part of the Irish Cruising Club fleet, although she spent her final ICC years in Dartmouth in Devon where brother Bryan – unlike Billy now married, and with a family – had made his home.

Apart from her extraordinary achievement with Marvin Creamer, Globe Star is remarkable in being such an utterly practical seagoing boat – she is Ted Brewer at his quietly innovative and sensible and under-stated best. Whoever has her now may indeed have an exceptional piece of world maritime history. But they also have a boat which is just very attractive in her own right.

Globe Star, a steel-built Goderich 36 designed by Ted Brewer, is a sensible and able boatGlobe Star, a steel-built Goderich 36 designed by Ted Brewer, is a sensible and able boat

Globe Star's accommodation is remarkableGlobe Star's accommodation is remarkable for its normality and practicality.

Published in Offshore
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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