Essex River Race 2009  



Blackburn Challenge - History

The event both celebrates and helps to keep alive the story of Howard Blackburn’s desperate mid-winter 1883 rowing of a small fishing dory from the Burgeo Bank fishing grounds to refuge on the south coast of Newfoundland. Blackburn and his dorymate Thomas Welch had become separated from the Gloucester fishing schooner Grace L. Fears during a sudden squall and found themselves nearly sixty miles from the nearest land. Over the course of the ensuing five-day ordeal, Welch would give up and succumb to a merciful death, whereas Blackburn would allow his bare hands to freeze to the shape of the oars, and row until he reached land.

Though Blackburn survived he ultimately suffered the loss of most of his fingers and toes due to frostbite. In spite of his handicap, he later went on to twice sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean, earning himself the title “The Fingerless Navigator”. His story is told in Joseph E. Garland’s “Lone Voyager”.

Lone Voyager - Story of Howard Blackburn Lone Voyager :
The Extraordinary Adventures of Howard Blackburn, Hero Fisherman of Gloucester by Joseph E. Garland Paperback - 320 pages Rev Ed edition (July 2000) Simon & Schuster (Paper); ISBN: 0684872633

From the Back Cover of "Lone Voyager"

"Like countless Gloucester fisherman before and since, Howard Blackburn and Tom Welch were trawling for halibut on the Newfoundland banks in an open dory in 1883 when a sudden blizzard separated them from their mother ship. Alone on the North Atlantic, they battled towering waves and frozen spray to stay afloat. Welch soon succumbed to exposure, and Blackburn did the only thing he could: He rowed for shore. He rowed five days without food or water, with his hands frozen to the oars, until he spied the coast of Newfoundland. Yet his test had only begun.

So begins Joe Garland's extraordinary account of the hero fisherman of Gloucester. Incredibly, though Blackburn lost his fingers to his icy misadventure, he went on to set a record for swiftest solo voyage across the Atlantic that stood for decades. Lone Voyager is a Homeric sage of survival at sea and a thrilling portrait of the world's most fabled fishing port in the age of sail"

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