Russ Smith Caulking Boat

Howard Blackburn
Howard Blackburn

The story of Howard Blackburn's life epitomizes the classic theme of man against nature. In January, 1883, Blackburn, a young Nova Scotian fisherman, signed onto the Gloucester schooner Grace L. Fears. The schooner was bound for the Burgeo Bank, a rich fishing ground 60 miles south of Newfoundland. She was in search of halibut, the large flounder-like fish that can weigh upwards of 400 lbs.

Blackburn and his dorymate Thomas Welch had become separated from the fishing schooner during a sudden squall and found themselves nearly sixty miles from the nearest land. Over the course of the ensuing five-day ordeal, Welch would give up and succumb to a merciful death, whereas Blackburn would allow his bare hands to freeze to the shape of the oars, and row until he reached land.

Though Blackburn survived he ultimately suffered the loss of most of his fingers and toes due to frostbite. In spite of his handicap, he later went on to twice sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean, earning himself the title “The Fingerless Navigator.”

The incredible story of Howard Blackburn is told in Lone Voyager by Joseph E. Garland

Lone Voyager

Howard Blackburn
(1859- 1932)

Blackburn Challenge

Rowing the Blackburn Challenge



2008 Blackburn Challenge

Sean Bercaw and Russell Smith competed in the 2008 Blackburn Challenge on July 12, 2008. The Blackburn Challenge covers a 20+ mile distance to complete a circumnavigation of Cape Ann and is the premier challenge race for Northeast distance rowers.

Sean and Russ row Last Chance
Sean and Russ row Last Chance
at the start of the Blackburn Challenge

Sean and Russ row Last Chance
Sean and Russ cross the finish line in Gloucester Harbor

Sean and Russ row Last Chance
Russ (left) and Sean celebrate a successful row

Note: Read about the 2007 Blackburn Challenge race completed by Bill Armitage and Russell Smith. For details about the construction of the Last Chance see New Craft Begins to Take Shape.

>> Return

  © Copyright 2008 John Gardner Chapter TSCA. All Rights Reserved. Design by Interspire