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Bill Pinkney

The flags of both of Captain Bill Pinkney’s countries, Sierra Leone and the United States, are represented on his ship.
The flags of both of Captain Bill Pinkney’s countries, Sierra Leone and the United States, are represented on his ship. (Credit: Courtesy of Captain Bill Pinkney)
In June 1992, Bill Pinkney became one of the first black men to sail solo around the world.

His 22-month-long voyage covered 27,000 miles and took him around the five southern capes, including Cape Horn at the tip of South America, one of the most difficult sailing passages in the world. When he arrived at Boston Harbor, after having successfully circumnavigated the globe, Pinkney became the fourth American to achieve this feat.

A Chicago native and former public relations executive, the 56 year old Pinkney sailed on a 47-foot cutter named The Commitment – his commitment to his dream of sailing around the world solo, and to the schoolchildren who followed his voyage via computer and television. The sailboat, which was designed for a seven-person crew, had been specially outfitted so he could handle it alone. Pinkney had originally planned to sail an easier route, through the Panama and Suez canals, but another sailor convinced him his trip would be considered more significant if he sailed the more difficult southern route around the five capes.

Arrival in Boston Harbor on June 9, 1992 at the conclusion of Captain Pinkney’s solo circumnavigation via Cape Horn
Arrival in Boston Harbor on June 9, 1992 at the conclusion of Captain Pinkney’s solo circumnavigation via Cape Horn. (Credit: Courtesy of Captain Bill Pinkney)
In November 1998, Pinkney embarked on a second journey, setting sail from the Caribbean on an historic voyage to retrace the “Middle Passage” slave trade routes. The five-month-long voyage took Pinkney, his three-person crew, and a rotating group of American schoolteachers to six countries: Puerto Rico, Barbados, Brazil, Ghana, Senegal, and the United States. They traveled on his 80-foot sailboat, and the teachers created classroom materials for schools across America.

Pinkney told interviewers that his quest was to visit those African countries from where his slave ancestors left in chains, most never to return. “I'm a descendant of those who came in the hold...now having ascended to the wheel,” he said. “I think...getting on an airplane and flying to Senegal, flying to Ghana, it’s not the same as taking an ocean voyage knowing that the waters over which you pass contain the bodies of those who refused to leave the continent, and found the only way out was to go overboard.”

Captain Bill Pinkney set sail on the Amistad.
Captain Bill Pinkney set sail on the Amistad. (Credit: Courtesy of Captain Bill Pinkney)


In 2000, Pinkney continued his voyages at the helm of the schooner, Amistad, a reproduction of the 19th century sailing ship, whose 53 African captives revolted in 1839. The ship made its way off the coast of Connecticut, where it was seized by the U.S. government. Those captives eventually won their freedom in a legal battle argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by John Quincy Adams. The 35 Africans who were still alive were returned to Africa.

Pinkney says, “The mission of Amistad is to tell the story of resistance, leadership, co-operation and the strength of the human spirit.”

"I'm a descendant of those who came in the hold...now having ascended to the wheel," says Pinkney. "I think...getting on an airplane and flying to Senegal, flying to Ghana, it's not the same as taking an ocean voyage knowing that the waters over which you pass contain the bodies of those who refused to leave the continent, and found the only way out was to go overboard."

Born in Chicago on Sept. 15, 1935, Pinkney served in the Navy and traced his decision to sail around the world back to a book he read in 7th grade, “Call it Courage.” Pinkney said Armstrong Sperry’s classic adventure tale, made him resolve to have a great adventure when he grew up.

 

 
 
 
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