These days, with the right tweet or viral video on Youtube, it seems that anyone can become famous. Fame required more effort in 1881, when a Scandinavian native named Ivar Olsen met a Maine seaman in Galveston, Texas.  

The sailor, a 25-year-old named John Traynor, soon convinced Olsen to join him in a publicity stunt that would “make them millions.”

Traynor had already ordered a boat from a Georgetown boat builder named Benjamin Williams. It was a wooden fishing dory which was 14 feet long, five feet wide and 21 inches deep. The boat carried 60 yards of canvas, divided amongst a mainsail, a square sail and two head sails. The top of the boat was covered with a deck, except for a small area at the stern that looks barely large enough in pictures for one man to sit or stand.

The idea, Traynor explained, was for the two men to sail the Dory all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, with Olsen serving as navigator Somehow he got Olsen to agree to this dubious plan. The boat was dubbed the City of Bath, loaded with supplies and the two men set sail from the Preble and Dunton’s wharf in Bath on July 5, 1881.

The boat soon sprung a leak, but did not sink. The men pulled into the harbor at Trepassy, Newfoundland, for repairs. Once the City of Bath was watertight, Olsen and Traynor sailed once again toward the eastern horizon.  Nobody would see them again until they arrived in Falmouth, England, 50 days after the journey began. Three days after that, they were in Le Havre, France.

One can only imagine what the journey was like.

How did it feel to be in a tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? How did it feel to live in cramped quarters with another man for 53 days? What did they talk about? How did they sleep? How did they handle the call of nature?

Like Charles Lindbergh decades later, Olsen and Traynor were met with a hero’s welcome in France. They and their boat travelled around Europe and held expositions in Paris and other major cities.

Sadly, Traynor decided to push his luck and try a similar voyage in 1884. He was never seen again.

Source: “A Maritime History of Bath, Maine and the Kennebec River Region” by William Avery Baker, 1973

Zac McDorr is a Coastal Journal contributing writer. He can be reached at:

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