The first independent account of the remarkable voyage of the Tilikum. Anticipating fame and wealth, Captain John Voss set out from Victoria, BC, in 1901, seeking to claim the world record for the smallest vessel ever to circumnavigate the globe. For the journey, he procured an authentic dugout cedar canoe from an Indigenous village on the east coast of Vancouver Island.
This is a tale, a true tale, I can get behind. For the inner-child-adventurer in each of us, it has it all: a search for buried treasure, stormy seas, exotic locales, and deliciously sketchy accounts pieced together from personal journals, logbooks, letters, and wildly differing accounts. But whatever information was recorded, authors John MacFarlane and Lynn Salmon have unearthed it, pieced it together like a once scattered jigsaw and meticulously reassembled an engaging, informative page-turner. This is rock-solid historical writing, composed by acutely knowledgeable and passionate researchers. Researchers who know how to share a great story.
In late 1900 Norman Luxton felt much like Herman Melville’s Ishmael with a “damp, drizzly November” in his soul as he sat in the dingy second-floor office of the struggling gossip sheet In Black and White on lower Johnson Street in Victoria.
I understand the notion of varying recollections – people experiencing the same journey but once recalled and retold, one suspects those involved couldn’t possibly have been in the same place at the same time. And so it is with Captain John Voss and Norman Luxton, the first of many hands to sail alongside Voss aboard the two-man Tilikum. Together Voss and Luxton sail from Vancouver Island across the Pacific. In subsequent legs of the voyage, mates came and went, the boat itself becoming, perhaps, our protagonist, circumnavigation her white whale.
Before leaving port [from Pernambuco, Brazil], Voss tallied all the days spent on his voyage and concluded that the Tilikum had completed a double world record: not only as the smallest vessel to cross the three great oceans but also as the only canoe to do so. Voss and the Tilikum had been voyaging for nearly three years.
As a Canadian west coaster, I feel I know the Tilikum. It’s part of our lore. But one predominantly unknown, until now. As curator emeritus of the Maritime Museum of BC and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, John MacFarlane knows his subject. With marine aficionado and co-author Lynn Salmon, also of the Maritime Museum of BC, we as readers are in the guiding hands of experts.
The end of the jetty was crowded with onlookers. The crew [Voss and then mate Harrison] was immediately accosted with shouts from the curious throng.
“What ship is that?” they called out.
“This is the Tilikum from Victoria, British Columbia,” Voss answered.
“How long have you been out?”
“Three years, three months, and twelve days,” he answered.
“How many miles have you sailed in your boat?”
“Forty thousand miles,” was his last answer.
In his journal, Voss refers to the Tilikum as a trustworthy friend. Reading MacFarlane and Salmon’s Around the World in a Dugout Canoe, we experience the Captain’s adventures on land, at sea, and promoting his trip firsthand to skeptics and fans worldwide. Which leaves me sharing the sentiment of Voss, describing this remarkable vessel – construction in part indigenous, colonial, and jerry-rigged, the Tilikum is symbolic of our nation, with all its irreparable flaws, mended cracks, and inimitable strength.
About the Authors:
John MacFarlane is the curator emeritus of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, curator of the Nauticapedia Project and author of a number of books and articles on nautical history. He was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy (Reserve). He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (London), recipient of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers and the SS Beaver Medal for Maritime Excellence. He lives in Qualicum Beach, BC.
Lynn Salmon has written extensively on the marine history of BC and her articles have appeared in publications including Western Mariner and the Times Colonist. She worked as collections manager for eight years at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and recently concluded a fifteen-year career as a radio officer with the Canadian Coast Guard. She is senior editor of the Nauticapedia Project. She lives in Courtenay, BC.
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