Maritime Adventurers

Two figures captured my imagination as a teenager, and I associate both with time spent sailing on the coast of Maine with my family, on our own adventures. One an explorer, and one was definitely an adventurer; one woman, one man–both from the 20th century.

Tania Aebi became one of my heroes when at 18, she became the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe on a 26 foot sailboat called Varuna. She was an adventurer not much older than myself. I was just 13 or 14 when I started reading her dispatches from remote parts of the world in Cruising World magazine. I remember reading with fear about the storms she encountered, and of the passenger she took on board her cat Tarzoon. Her father had encouraged her to take on this challenge rather than go to college. Tania didn’t know how to navigate, and barely knew how to sail when she left in 1985 - her father had bought a boat two years earlier. She finished her journey in 1987.

Admiral Robert E. Peary the Arctic explorer, who planted a flag on the north pole in 1909, had a summer home on Eagle Island off the coast of Maine. The island was a frequent stop for our little sailboat as it was just a couple hour sail from the city of Portland. At that time, the only way to get to the island was by private or a couple of charter companies. My parents would let us roam and explore both the island and the home. It was a museum–but unlike any other museum I had ever been. It was a magical place, and the stories that revealed themselves through the objects in the house were amazing. There was a caretaker on the island, but the home was open and everything was just as the family had left it, we were free to explore ourselves. You could open the medicine cabinets, look under the children’s beds, open the closets or read the books on the shelves. Peary’s collections littered every shelf and corner. My favorite object was a narwhal tusk–probably four feet long–that leaned against the central stone fireplace. There were even photos of Perry on his explorations. The aura of that island was magical; the lessons I learned indelible, more vivid than reading any written history–I only realize now because I was an on my own little adventure.

Robert Edwin Peary, Matthew Henson, and four inuit Ooqueah, Ootah, Segloo, and Egingwah reached the north pole on April 6, 1909.

“The discovery of the North Pole stands for the inevitable victory of courage, persistence, experience over all obstacles. In the discovery of the North Pole is written the final chapter of the last of the great geographical stories of the western hemisphere which began with the discovery of the New World by Columbus. Here is the cap and climax, the finish, the closing of the book on 400 years of history. The discovery of the North Pole on the 6 th of April 1909 by the last expedition of the Peary Arctic Club means that the splendid frozen jewel of the north, for which through centuries men of every nation have struggled and suffered and died, is won at last and is to be worn forever by the stars and stripes.” quote from the Spring 2009 Peary Eagle Island Journal.

For more information about Eagle Island:
For more information about Tania Aebi: