Yachting, 1941

George Dibbern: His Life and Quest

Adventurer ~ Sailor-Philosoper ~ Free Thinker ~ Self-declared Citizen of the World

YACHTING • May 1941

Books for the Yachtsman


(W.W. Norton & Co., New York, $3.00)

This story by George Dibbern is pretty close to tops among narratives devoted to getting away from it all. Dibbern had more to get away from than most maritime vagabonds. And it might be added, he got farther away and stayed away longer. In 1930 he was working in a German road gang, a relief laborer supporting his wife and three children on a pittance. He owned a run down 32-foot sloop; the Te Rapunga, and the conviction that there was more to life than the dull and spiritless assumption of domestic responsibility. With the aid of friends, including a middle-aged baroness who became for a time his patroness and passenger, he put out from Kiel on a world voyage.

He is, at the present writing, still afloat. In the intervening decade he, has become a veritable man without a country, flying his own flag and carrying a passport of his own manufacture announcing himself as “a citizen of the world and a friend of all peoples.” He carries passengers when they are to be had, delivers lectures, serenely accepts help when offered, and whittles away between times at his philosophy—which includes the belief that “if we are in harmony with life, life will keep us alive.”

Dibbern’s account of his wanderings is often vivid and entertaining. There was never enough money for anything. After a year or so of Mediterranean cruising, he got tired of maneuvering out of tight spots with a mainsail which was constantly tearing. He paused in St. Tropez and re-rigged the Te Rapunga as a ketch, erecting the main boom in the cockpit as a mizzenmast. An idyllic Atlantic crossing confirmed the usefulness of, his new rig. He and the mate—they dropped the baroness, over her tearful. protests, at Panama—endured almost incredible torments on the mid-summer passage to San Francisco, which lasted 101 days.

That was the toughest leg of a voyage which has gone on ever since. Dibbern set sail from California for Honolulu, sailed from there to Samoa and on to New Zealand, which was his original goal. He took part in the Trans-Tasman Race. He was dined and feted as became a notable wanderer. The mate got married and went to farming in Tasmania. But Dibbern, who feels himself by now far more at home on the sea than he can ever be on land, is still cruising the South Pacific.

Quest is written in a rather naive English, unmistakably and sometimes appallingly sincere. It is only partly a yachting story, for Dibbern pauses to examine the roots of his beliefs, to justify the role he has chosen for himself, to compare what he has observed of manners and morals in many quarters of the globe.