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Farewell to brothers of the sea

2020 October 1

John Kretschmer shares memories of Larry Pardey and Marvin Creamer, two sailors who helped shape him and led the way to his life under sail

Creamer’s epic voyage, in a 36-foot steel cutter called Globe Star and with two companions, coincided with our Cape Horn voyage. We both finished in 1984. While recent tributes to Creamer claim his voyage was big news, his accomplishment should be much more widely known than it is. In many ways he was the Thor Heyerdahl of his time and his voyage more impressive than Kon Tiki’s slow drift across the Pacific. Creamer was self-deprecating. When he made landfall at Cape May after a 513-day voyage with just a handful of stops, he declared, “this is one small step back for mankind.” 

Marvin Creamer relied on his knowledge of geography and oceanography to become the first recorded person to sail around the world without any navigation equipment.
Photo courtesy of Rowan University Archives and Special Collections

While Creamer’s story didn’t receive the press it clearly should have, we had sense enough to arrive in San Francisco on a slow news day, back in the days when there were still slow news days. Although we had not come close to achieving our goal of trying to equal the average time of a clipper ship, our sponsor, Stroh’s Brewery, was so amazed that we had actually survived, they cranked up the PR machine. The local TV crews filmed our arrival and I had a dubious interview with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News when he kept calling me Don instead of John. I had about two weeks of being famous and went on a few other television shows, a few radio programs and finally, one last radio interview in Sarina, Ontario. 

I always gave the host a list of questions to ask so that they could sound informed and remotely interested. I arrived at the studio, but the D.J. in Sarina crumpled up the sheet, “I know all about your voyage, it’s amazing.” I was relieved that for once somebody knew something about sailing and looked forward to the interview and live questions from listeners. After the commercial break he launched into the introduction. 

“Welcome back, today we have in studio a man who is a brother to Magellan and Columbus, a mariner Odysseus would understand.” I was thinking he was laying it on thick, but hey, it’s radio, then I started to panic as he continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, right after the news we will talk to a man who has done something that’s never been done before. It is my honor to introduce John Kretschmer, the man who sailed around the world without any navigational instruments!”

What was I supposed to do? That was one of the greatest intros of all time. Hell, I was a brother to Magellan. I would make the guy look like a complete fool after such a glorious build up if I corrected him. Of course, it was the introduction that Marvin Creamer deserved but I was not Marvin Creamer. Or was I? I didn’t know what else to do and for the next hour I very carefully answered questions about sailing without instruments and then mercifully slunk out of the studio feeling like a total schmuck. 

I should have tracked down Marvin and told him the story in person. I suspect he would have liked it. Farewell Marvin Creamer, a true brother of Magellan.

Lin, on Larry

I have been overwhelmed by the sincerity, and the number of the warm messages I have been receiving. Emails, Facebook messages, obits in online magazines, they have been filling my heart with pride at having been part of Larry’s life. He definitely helped me become someone far different than I thought I would be. He taught me to have confidence in myself, stretch my horizons, to start both small and big projects and actually finish them. Best of all, he showed me how to make and keep friends.

Lin and Larry Pardey 

I have been saying goodbye to Larry over the past seven years as Parkinson’s and dementia slowly took him from me. All during that time he was amazingly accepting. A few months before I finally had to put him in care, he had a rare lucid moment while I was reading to him from one of our Seraffyn books. “Don’t you wish we were planning one more crazy adventure together?” I asked him. His answer, “That would be downright greedy.” That is what I remember him by, his complete satisfaction with the life he chose.

In September we will be sailing back to New Zealand. I am planning on having a celebration of Larry’s life on October 31 and November 1 to coincide with what would have been his 81st birthday, our 52th anniversary, Seraffyn’s 52nd birthday and Taleisin’s 37th birthday, all of which occurred on or within two days of October 31 (Larry’s actual birthday.) I hope some of you can join me then.

An extra thanks to those of you who have added a bit to the Larry Pardey Observatory fund on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/donate/288171872420846. The camp directors, Erin and Peter Hyde and I have decided to use this to build a covered area with a fire pit at the beginning of the track that leads to the observatory. It will be used for a briefing area before campers go up to use the actual telescopes in groups of 12. It will also be a place where youngsters and others can gather around a roaring fire to share stories, maybe sing a bit and have a good reason to be outside on cold and drizzly nights. -- Lin Pardey

Marvin Creamer 1916-2020

Marvin Creamer was a scholar, professor and geographer. And all of these made him an  extraordinary sailor and adventurer.

In 1984 he became the first recorded person to sail around the world without navigational instruments, including a compass.

Marvin Creamer 1916-2020
Photo courtesy of Rowan University Archives and Special Collections

With a small crew, Creamer, who was 66 at the time, sailed from Cape May, New Jersey, on a 36-foot cutter called Globe Star on December 21, 1982 without using a compass, sextant, electronic instruments or even a wristwatch. A sextant, compass, clock and radio were sealed in a locker for emergency use but the seal was never broken.

Instead, Creamer relied on cues from water currents, wind patterns, cloud formations, flotsam and wildlife to navigate even when the sun and moon weren’t visible.

His knowledge of such matters came not just through his study of geography—he earned a master’s degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin and was a professor of geography at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, for many years—but also his interest in oceanography. 

The nature of Creamer’s voyage meant that milestones that would be a pinnacle for many sailors were marked differently. On December 13, 1983 Globe Star rounded Cape Horn, but its crew wasn’t sure that they had.

“It is believed that we rounded the Horn at noon yesterday,” the ship’s log read. “We were not able to sight any landmarks, so have based our conclusion on 1. The presence of an extremely cold north wind of relatively short duration, and 2. The change of the water color from blue to fairly dark, transparent green to a lighter, less transparent green and back to a quite dark transparent green.”

Creamer and crew made several stops along the way, finishing the journey back in Cape May on May 17, 1984, having spent nearly a year on the water. 

He is the recipient of numerous awards include the Blue Water Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Cruising Club of America.

Creamer died August 12 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was 104.

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