When Marvin Creamer, a retired geography professor and lifelong sailor, set out from Cape May, New Jersey, on Dec. 21, 1982, aboard the Ted Brewer-designed Goderich 35 Globe Star, the voyage upon which he was embarking “should have been the fiasco that many had predicted.” Creamer intended to circumnavigate the globe using no instruments whatsoever—not even a compass—navigating solely by the stars, wave patterns, and other natural phenomena he observed, from sea grass to Sarahan dust and even the gut contents of fish he caught.
He’d already done several transatlantics in a 30-foot Allied Seawind called Scotia, and later a trip from Cape May to the Azores and back—without instruments—in a 39-foot Southern Cross called Navstar, but these voyages didn’t mitigate the naysayers. Even he called the circumnavigation a “foolish idea,” but it was an idea he was supremely suited for, using his native skills as a mechanic and problem-solver nonpareil, as well as his singleminded—if complicated, driven, and sometimes obdurate—personality.
He did accomplish this goal, stopping in Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand, and after rounding Cape Horn, the Falkland Islands, returning to Cape May on May 17, 1984. With his varied crew (he sailed with two to three people on nearly every leg), Creamer sailed 29,460 nautical miles, using not a single instrument. As far as anyone knows, he’s the only contemporary person to have accomplished the feat, which earned him the Cruising Club of America’s Blue Water Medal, among other awards.
And yet, few people, even in sailing circles, know his name (he died in August 2020 at 104 years old). In this thoroughly researched account of this unique sailor and his journey, Ron Scher says he aims to correct that situation. Clearly, he admires Creamer, but his book allows for warts and all, and we have a full and captivating picture of this complex man. As a sailor living in a Bluetooth world, it’s hard to imagine how Creamer did what he did, and it’s even at times unnerving to read about it. But as Scher writes, “Marv was different than most of us. In an age when many of us are simply passive wanderers, he was an active doer. He was not simply of the world; he was actively in the world…while so many of us are blind to our environment, Marv was alive to his.”
Kudos to Scher for writing a book that gives Creamer the voice he deserves in sailing history and that invites all of us to think a bit differently next time we are on the water we love.