On this date in 1958, Ben Carlin became the first, and so far only, person to circumnavigate the globe in an amphibious vehicle.
Here are some things you may not have known about the trip.
Carlin was born near Perth, Australia in 1912. During World War II, he joined the British Indian Army, serving in India, Iraq, Persia, Palestine, Syria and Italy. By the end of the war he had been promoted to major. He also met an American nurse, Elinore, during the war, whom he married in 1948. Near the end of the war, he suggested to his fellow troops that a person could go around the world in one of the amphibious Ford Jeeps that were commonly seen in battle zones.
Carlin suggested that the couple honeymoon by crossing the Atlantic in one of those modified Ford GPAs. The couple purchased a surplus GPA for $901 and set about making it seaworthy. A more boat-like bow, rudder, cabin and fuel tanks were among the the additions. They named the vessel “Half-Safe” after the slogan of the deodorant brand Arrid, “Don’t be half-safe — use Arrid to be sure.”
In the year leading up to their wedding, the Carlins began testing the boat. The land journey from Montreal, Canada, to New York City was trouble free, however once they hit the water, things went wrong in a hurry. The first problem was carbon monoxide leaking into the cabin. Next they faced a broken steering gear and rudder, then a cracked exhaust pipe. Seasickness, a broken propeller, burned out clutch, and the loss of auxiliary fuel tanks were among the reasons other tests failed.
In 1949, Ben Carlin was considering abandoning his quest, when Elinore convinced him to continue.
On July 19, 1950, the couple set off from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with 735 gallons of fuel, 30 gallons of drinking water, and six weeks of provisions. After losing radio contact halfway through the journey and being feared lost at sea, the Carlins arrived in the Azores 32 days later. They then sailed to Morocco, driving north through Marrakesh and Casablanca, before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and reaching Europe. They concluded the first leg of their journey in Birmingham, England on New Year’s Day 1952.
To raise money to complete the journey, the vehicle was displayed at stores across the continent. Ben Carlin also wrote a book chronicling their journey to that point. After three years of rest, recovery, repairs and raising money, the Carlins set out again in early 1955. They suffered their first flat tire in May 1955 in in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. They sailed across the Bosphorus to land in Asia for the first time. They crossed the Middle East and stopped in Calcutta, India. They delayed the journey there and shipped the vehicle to Australia, where they toured in an effort to raise funds. Elinore left the trip in Australia after suffering from almost constant seasickness. Arriving back at Calcutta, Ben Carlin crossed the Bay of Benga, landing in Burma. In May 1956, after being joined by fellow Australian Barry Hanley, Carlin reached Hong Kong.
The next destination was Tokyo, where Hanley decided to return to Australia. An American journalist named Boye Lafayette de Mente would join Carlin for the trip from Tokyo to Anchorage, Alaska. After taking longer than their planned 21 days, Carlin and de Mente reached the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and then made their way to Anchorage. De Mente went home at this point and Carlin drove solo to Seattle and then San Francisco, where he met up with his wife for the first time in two years. On May 13, 1958, after 10 years of trying, Carlin completed his journey by returning to Montreal.
The trip had a total distance of 11,050 miles, crossed 38 countries, two oceans and cost about $35,000.
Carlin remained in the United States for a while, lecturing about his trip. He returned to Australia, where he lived for the rest of his life, dying in 1981 at the age of 68. He and Elinore later divorced and she lived in the United States, where she died in 1996.
The Half-Safe is on display at Carlin’s childhood school in a suburb of Perth, Australia.
Our question: Who was the first person to circumnavigate the world by any means?
Today is Frog Jumping Day, National Apple Pie Day and World Cocktail Day.
It’s the birthday of actress Bea Arthur, who was born in 1922; musician Stevie Wonder, who is 66 today; and talk-show host Stephen Colbert, who turns 52.
Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.
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