Dodge Morgan, Sailor and Adventurer

My friend Dodge Morgan died the other day. Well, I call him my friend but to be honest I have not seen him for over a decade. Years ago I was doing some consulting yacht design work for Ted Hood and he had a customer that wanted to sail alone, nonstop around the world. The customer was Dodge Morgan, a self-made multi-millionaire who had bummed around on boats until he was forty, decided to knuckle down and make some money and had retired wealthy at 50. With cash in hand Dodge was ready to fulfill a lifelong dream to circumnavigate solo.

The challenge was that Dodge was no longer as young and as fit as he had once been and so the boat that Hood designed was completely push-button with massive built in redundancy. Two generators, entire spare winch sets, etc. Dodge was going to circumnavigate but he was not going to knock himself out doing so.

Dodge MorganAt the time he got quite a bit of flack in the press. “Where was the challenge?” people wrote.

This is how I saw it. The challenge is in the mental toughness it takes to stick with it. Dodge got dished up the same nasty weather as everyone else, he felt the same pangs of loneliness and despair. He may have been able to reef his mainsail at the push of a button, but for 154 days he lived on the edge pushing his overweight boat around the planet.

I watched him leave for Portland dressed in a tuxedo. I wondered if he would make it. He didn’t. Mechanical problems forced a stop in Bermuda. I though that might be the end of it for him, but I was wrong. He took off once more heading south on a course that would take him around the five great capes. I, meanwhile, was doing my second Whitbread race on Drum. As we surfed massive waves in the Southern Ocean heading for Cape Horn I overheard a radio call from Dodge Morgan to his shore team. His position was a hundred miles ahead of us on a course for Cape Horn. I contacted the radio operator and asked that he patch a call from Drum through to Dodge on American Promise, and the following day, as he rounded Cape Horn, I was able to have a chat with him. It was one of those mid-ocean magical moments.

Dodge finished his circumnavigation and in doing so became the first American to complete a non-stop circumnavigation. In his latter years I tried to get Dodge to join me on the Speakers Circuit but he replied; “You don’t want me. I have been practicing the fine art of pissing people off.” Dodge had money, he had accomplished his life goals and was not about to suffer fools gladly, as St Paul put it so succinctly. He lived alone on an island off the coast of Maine and died of cancer. I guess what I admired most about him was his ability to live life entirely on his own terms. May we all learn from that lesson.

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