Adventurous Use of the Sea: The Cruising Club of America

Encouraging Ocean Sailing

The Cruising Club of America recognition of heroic action on the open sea

Blue Water Medal

To encourage adventurous use of the sea, the Cruising Club established the annual Blue Water Medal to recognize outstanding examples of seafaring expertise. These awards emphasize “first-class seamanship,”  “excellent preparation and execution,” and “complete absence of heroics and near-disaster.”

Sometimes the medal is awarded for cumulative activity, such as Carleton Mitchell’s contributions to the sport of sailing in the 1950s, or Thomas J. Watson’s lifetime of long-distance cruising, awarded in 1986. But usually the Blue Water Medal recognizes specific voyages or long-distance passages, usually in sailboats, sometimes in powerboats.

Satellite image of Earth
Satellite image of EarthView full-size image

Blue Ocean IV

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image by Reto Stöckli (land surface, shallow water, clouds). Enhancements by Robert Simmon (ocean color, compositing, 3D globes, animation). Data and technical support: MODIS Land Group; MODIS Science Data Support Team; MODIS Atmosphere Group; MODIS Ocean Group Additional data: USGS EROS Data Center (topography); USGS Terrestrial Remote Sensing Flagstaff Field Center (Antarctica); Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (city lights).

Some Interesting Parts of the World.” In 1926, Henry Pidgeon received a Blue Water Medal for his solo round-the-world voyage in Islander.

Henry PidgeonView full-size image

Henry Pidgeon (1869-1954)

“My Way of Seeing Some Interesting Parts of the World”

In 1926, Henry Pidgeon (1869-1954) received a Blue Water Medal for his round-the-world voyage in Islander, which made him the second person (after Joshua Slocum) to single-handedly circumnavigate the world. Born in Iowa, Pidgeon was a California cowboy at 15, a sailor and adventurer in Alaska, and a photographer in the California mountains. In 1917-18 Pigeon built his 34-foot yawl Islander based on plans of Thomas Fleming Day’s ocean cruiser Sea Bird. Beginning in 1921, Pigeon made a leisurely four-year voyage through the Pacific Islands, around the Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal to return to California. Pigeon described his adventures in his 1932 book, Around the World Single-Handed: The Cruise of the Islander.

 Transatlantic in Dorade
For Dorade’s notable performance during a transatlantic voyage, Rod Stephens received the Blue Water Medal in 1933.

Roderick Stephens (1909-1995)

Roderick Stephens (1909-1995) was as brilliant an ocean sailor as his brother Olin was a yacht designer. Following a transatlantic cruise in 1931, he took command of the Stephens-designed yawl Dorade in 1932. After winning the Newport Bermuda Race, he made a three-month, 8,000-mile transatlantic crossing from New York to Norway and return. During the cruise, Dorade won the prestigious Fastnet Race—the British equivalent of the Newport Bermuda Race—in very rough conditions. Stephens brought Dorade “home from England by the northern route in the remarkable time of 26 days.”

The Miracle of Dunkirk
For uncommon valor in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 the CCA bestowed the Blue Water Medal on the “yachtsmen of Dunkirk.”

The Miracle of Dunkirk

When the Nazi invasion of France pinned almost 400,000 French and British soldiers against the coast at Dunkirk, in northeast France, the British established Operation Dynamo to evacuate the troops. The fleet of 850 rescue boats included about 700 workboats and “self-propelled pleasure craft between 30 feet and 100 feet in length.” Between May 26 and June 3, 1940, these “little ships of Dunkirk” ferried 338,000 (90 percent) of the defenders off the beach and out of Dunkirk Harbor to waiting navy vessels to be carried across the English Channel and safety. For the uncommon valor of this action the CCA bestowed the Blue Water Medal on the “yachtsmen of Dunkirk” (though almost all of the yachts were operated by navy personnel and volunteers). One of the few yachtsmen to operate his own yacht during Operation Dynamo was Charles Lightoller, formerly second officer of the Titanic.

Blue Water Medal Voyages
The Cruising Club of America has awarded the Blue Water Medal 84 times between 1923 and 2011. This chart tracks the accomplishments of eight recipients.

Singlehanded, West-About. Sir Francis Chichester received his second Blue Water Medal in 1967 for his single-handed circumnavigation in Gypsy Moth IV.

Sir Francis ChichesterView full-size image

Sir Francis Chichester (1902-1972)

Born in England, Francis Chichester (1901-1972) emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and took up aviation in 1929. An expert at navigation, he took up long-distance sailing in the late 1950s and won a single-handed transatlantic race in 1960, for which he was awarded a Blue Water Medal. In 1966, he set out alone in his 54-foot ketch Gypsy Moth IV, making a 29,630-mile, 226-day circumnavigation with just one stop, at Sydney Australia. In addition to its speed, this was the first solo voyage traveling west to east. Chichester described his voyage in his book Gypsy Moth Circles the World. For his accomplishment, Chichester was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Sir Francis Chichester received his second Blue Water Medal in 1967.

“Once is Enough.” For their practical seamanship and enduring sense of adventure, Beryl and Miles Smeeton received the Blue Water Medal in 1973.

Beryl and Miles Smeeton

Beryl and Miles Smeeton, who married in 1939, had many adventures in Asia and served with distinction during World War II, before settling in British Columbia. In 1951 they bought the 46-foot ketch Tzu Hang in England, learning to sail during their return to Canada. In 1955 they sailed to Australia. In 1956, while sailing from Australia to England, they were dismasted near Cape Horn, but managed to reach Chile. The next year they were again dismasted near Cape Horn, after which they shipped the boat to England, where it was repaired. They then made a multi-year circumnavigation and finally rounded Cape Horn successfully in 1968. They described their adventures in their book Once is Enough. For their practical seamanship and enduring sense of adventure, the Smeetons received the Blue Water Medal in 1973.

“Down Denmark Strait.” E. Newbold Smith received the Blue Water Medal in 1976 for his voyage across the North Atlantic and to the edge of the Arctic.

E. Newbold Smith

Philadelphia investment manager E. Newbold Smith was a celebrated ocean sailor and racer when he took his Swan 43 Reindeer across the Atlantic in 1976 after winning his class in the Newport Bermuda Race. Sailing by way of Iceland and the Faeroe Islands to Norway, he then headed north to the Spitzbergen Islands at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Returning by way of the icy, hazardous Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland (where Reindeer ran aground), he and his crew completing the voyage in four months. E. Newbold Smith described the voyage in his book Down Denmark Strait. He received the Blue Water Medal in 1976.

Beating the Clipper Ships. In 2004, Richard Wilson received the Blue Water Medal for his thorough preparation, his safe handling of his boat, and his educational efforts during his three record-setting passages.

Richard B. Wilson

The large, fast clipper ships of the mid-1800s set many of the records for ocean passages between the world’s major ports. Richard B. Wilson, an experienced ocean racer and the founder of the interactive educational company Ocean Challenge, Inc., broke three of those records. With a crew of two in the 53-foot trimaran Great American II, he made the 15,300-mile run from San Francisco to Boston in 69 days, 20 hours (1993); the 15,400-mile run from New York to Melbourne in 69 days, 14 hours (2001); and the 15,271-mile run from Hong Kong to New York in 72 days, 23 hours (2003). In the process he contributed to the educational development of more than 250,000 students who tracked his progress by computer. In 2004, Richard Wilson received the Blue Water Medal for his thorough preparation, his safe handling of his boat, and his educational efforts during his three record-setting passages.

First Nonstop Solo Circumnavigation. Sir Robin Knox Johnston received the Blue Water Medal in 2010 for a lifetime devoted to advancement of sailing, sail training, and youth development.

Sir Robin Knox Johnston

British merchant mariner Robin Knox-Johnston built his 32-foot ketch Suhaili in India between voyages and sailed her to England in the 1960s. In 1968, he entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe Trophy race for the first nonstop, solo circumnavigation. Knox-Johnston was the only finisher, making the 30,123-mile voyage in 312 days. In 1989, he took Suhaili across the Atlantic and back in the track of Columbus, and in 1990 sailed to Greenland, north of the Arctic Circle. In other boats he sailed in many ocean races. In 1994 he co-skippered Enza New Zealand in the fastest circumnavigation. He made his last solo circumnavigation in the 2006-07 Velux5Oceans Race. He became president of the Sail Training Association in 1992 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1995. Sir Robin Knox Johnston received the Blue Water Medal in 2010 for a lifetime devoted to advancement of sailing, sail training, and youth development.