|Hannes Lindemann in 2006, at the age of 84. He holds a copy of Life magazine, which featured him on the cover following his 1956-57 transatlantic solo voyage in a folding kayak. (Click to enlarge.)|
Dr. Hannes Lindemann is well-known to historically-minded kayakers for his east-to-west solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a folding kayak in 1956-57. Less famous is his similar solo crossing just one year previous in a dugout canoe. We'll focus on Lindemann's dugout journey here; we'll address his kayak voyage, along with some other transoceanic kayak adventures, in a future post.
Lindemann, a German physician, was working in a Liberian plantation clinic for the Firestone Rubber Company in the mid-1950s when he began to solidify his long-held dream of a solo Atlantic crossing. He had previously met Alain Bombard, a Frenchman who had crossed the Atlantic in an inflatable raft in 1952 to test his theory that it was possible to survive "shipwreck" situations without fresh water by obtaining fluids from fish and drinking limited amounts of sea water. Bombard claimed that his voyage was completed under just those conditions, but Lindemann was skeptical, and he decided to test Bombard's theory.
After some unsuccessful attempts to have a dugout canoe built for him by local Liberian labor, Lindemann purchased a used canoe in questionable condition. It measured 23.5 feet LOA, with a beam of 29.9 inches, and it "had holes in the stern and bow, and in the bottom where it had lain on the ground. Also fungus growth had softened the wood somewhat," he wrote in Alone at Sea. But Lindemann thought the mahogany hull still essentially sound, and determined to repair its deficiencies. He named it Liberia II, the original Liberia being the first boat that he had attempted to have built for him locally, but which was accidentally burned.
Like Tilikum, Captain John Voss's ocean-crossing dugout canoe, Liberia II was a far cry from the original native design once Lindemann was done preparing it for sea. Lindemann planed the bottom of the hull flat, sheathed it with fiberglass, and attached a external keel 11.5 feet long and 5.1" deep and containing 250 lb. of lead. He "spanned her width with bent lengths of iron" (by which I assume he refers to internal frames), added fiberglass-covered plywood decks with a cockpit opening near the stern, and bulkheads enclosing watertight containers in the ends. On the exterior, he installed 10-inch thick cork sponsons near the waterline to reduce rolling. He writes that at this stage, the canoe "resembled the pirogues of the Carib Indians." Upon launching, the boat proved top-heavy, which Lindemann attempted to correct by the addition of bagged sand as internal ballast.
Lindemann's description of his rig is sketchy and confusing. It was apparently a sloop, with an ironwood mast that was stiff enough to "run even in the Gulf of Guinea without a backstay." Depending upon the point of sail, Lindemann had two mainsails from which to choose, a squaresail and a gaff, both of nine square yards, and a jib of three square yards. The boom, which was made of "rare red camwood, which warps even less than mahogany," could be rotated to reef the gaff mainsail. A rudder, controlled with cables, could be steered with either the hands via a tiller or by foot.
A 3-horsepower outboard engine was ruined when the boat capsized at the dock before the start of the voyage. Lindemann jettisoned the engine but made no other modifications to improve the boat's stability before setting off from Liberia in February, 1955.
This first voyage was a dismal failure. The boat proved unstable and prone to excessive rolling, and the rudder was too small to control it with the wind abeam. Apparently having forgotten to bring his antimalarial drugs, Lindemann was struck by a recurrence of malaria while underway and tossed most of his provisions overboard during a hallucinatory fit. The trip ended in Ghana just 17 days after it had begun.
Undeterred, Lindemann shipped the boat to Hamburg where he had a shipyard replace the internal ballast with additional external ballast, build a larger rudder, and add "a four-inch wide plank … around the cockpit so that I could sit there in comfort." It's unclear to me if this plank constituted a cockpit combing or a narrow cockpit seat. He then shipped the boat to Oporto and set off again in May on his second transatlantic attempt in four months.
Although his first attempt had demonstrated to him in just two and a half weeks that drinking salt-water was damaging to his health, Lindemann decided to resume the experiment. His daily liquid ration now consisted of seven ounces of sea water and "almost a quart and a half of other liquids [including evaporated milk and mineral water mixed with red wine]. By the second day edemata [i.e., edema, the accumulation of liquids between the cells] had developed, which soon extended up to my knees."
This second attempt was no more successful than the first. The rudder broke two days after a stop in Morocco; Lindemann determined that the new rudder design was too large, and he cut it down and reinstalled it. He lost it altogether shortly thereafter, along with both of his sea anchors. Steering with a paddle for 14 days, he made landfall in Villa Cisneros, in Spanish West Africa.
"During that time, my daily intake of sea water had been ten and a half fluid ounces, which I swallowed in doses of one and three-fourths fluid ounces six times a day, and now my feet and legs were swollen in spite of rest and exercises. I had proved to myself that there is no advantage to drinking salt water; it can, in fact, weaken a sailor's physical condition at a time when he needs all his strength."
Although this seems obvious now, this may be judging with the benefit of hindsight and the advantage of modern knowledge gained from experiments like those of Lindemann himself. On the other hand, I believe that the unhealthful effects of drinking saltwater had been recognized by sailors for millennia, though perhaps not scientifically demonstrated until after Bombard had promulgated his theory.
Lindemann shipped Liberia II from Villa Cisneros to Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands, where he again had a shipyard greatly enlarge the rudder and massively reinforce it. He also had made new sails and a canvas spray cover with an iron frame. Shipping a spare mast and oar, he relaunched in October.
DR. HANNES LINDEMANN ARRIVES HOME AFTER SAILING THE ATLANTIC IN A NATIVE CANOEFor the next 18 days, Lindemann satisfied his fluid needs entirely from the juice of the apples and oranges he consumed. After discarding the remaining rotting fruit, he "switched to a daily liquid intake of fourteen ounces of evaporated milk and a mixture of one and a half pints of mineral water and a bit less than a half pint of red wine." He ate a raw onion daily which, he says, contained enough vitamins to prevent scurvy. He also ate a can of meat and six mouthfuls of honey daily, some other canned rations which are not clearly listed in his account, and frequently caught fish and ate them raw.
Although his boat was still far from perfect, this time it was good enough. "My narrow canoe rolled and yawed so badly that I usually took in the gaff sail and went under square sail at night." Following a tortuous voyage, Lindemann landed in St. Croix some time between December 29 and 31 (the account is unclear). He recuperated for ten days, then embarked again and sailed through a vicious storm to Haiti, thus completing his intended voyage, in a roundabout way, from the first Negro republic in the Old World (Liberia) to the first one in the New World.
UPDATE: Many thanks to T.G. ''Woody'' Witte for the link to the film footage. Mr. Witte tell us that he plans a voyage from California to Hawaii in a Klepper Aerius II, like the boat Lindemann used in his next voyage across the Atlantic (see Mr. Witte's comment, below). We kinda hope he's putting us on, but if he's really determined to carry through with it, we wish him as much luck and success as Dr. Lindemann enjoyed. Don't forget your sunscreen, Woody.