American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

YANKEE. Irving Johnson* and his wife, Electa, gave the name Yankee to three different vessels (built 1897, 1911, and 1959). The first was built as a deep-sea pilot schooner by the Dutch government in 1897 and named the Loodschooner 4. Later named the Texel, she was bought by the Johnsons in 1933 and renamed Yankee. The Johnsons sailed their topsail schooner three times around the world with a crew of young men and women. Their first voyage is recounted in Westward Bound in the Schooner Yankee (1936). The tale of their second voyage, which included baby son Arthur and first mate Sterling Hayden,* is told in the picture book Sailing to See: Picture Cruise in the Schooner Yankee (1939). The schooner Yankee was sold in 1941 and later wrecked in Nova Scotia.

After World War II the Johnsons bought another vessel, the Duhnen. Taken as a prize of war by the British, it was the last pilot schooner the Germans had built (in 1911) before steam took over. The Johnsons bought the vessel in 1946 and rigged it as a brigantine before sailing it four times around the world. The first of these voyages (called the “fourth” voyage) is recorded in Yankee’s Wander World: Circling the Globe in the Brigantine Yankee (1949). The next voyage is narrated by one of the crew, Donald M. Green (as told to Jessie L. Beattie), in White Wings around the World (1953). The tale of the “sixth” voyage is told by Irving and Electa Johnson and Lydia Edes in Yankee’s People and Places (1955). The crew for the final voyage of the brigantine included Christopher Sheldon and his future wife, Alice Strahan, who served as the doctor on board the Yankee. (Sheldon later bought the Albatross, Ernest K. Gann’s* former vessel, which had been rerigged for the film version of his book Twilight for the Gods [1956], and took it to sea with a crew of troubled boys, as depicted in the 1995 film White Squall. The Albatross was tragically lost in a white squall in 1961;

Alice, the cook, and four boys drowned.) The brigantine Yankee was sold in 1958 and later wrecked on a reef in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The third Yankee was designed jointly by Olin Stephens and Irving Johnson and built in a Dutch yard in 1958-1959. So it could be taken through locks and into dangerous waters, it was rigged as a ketch and included an extrastrong keel, shallow draft, centerboards, and folding masts. The Johnsons sailed the ketch Yankee across Europe and up the Nile before the Aswan High Dam was built. Their adventures are recorded in Yankee Sails across Europe (1962) and Yankee Sails the Nile (1966). The ketch Yankee was sold in 1975 and continues to sail. In all their years at sea under the Johnsons, the Yankees had no deaths and no serious injuries. [See also CIRCUMNAVIGATIONS AND BLUE-WATER PASSAGES]

Mary K. Bercaw Edwards