Oct 2009 Issue 181: Sterling Hayden, Iconic Sailor

by David Berson

His life almost reads like fairy tale; except for all the parts that were full of too much drinking, hard living and an almost obsessive self-loathing. In his 70 years Sterling Hayden wrote two very good books, acted in more than 30 movies, and sailed with some of the greats.

As a young boy Hayden was sent to boarding school after his mother remarried. But he left school to hitch down to Gloucester, Mass., where he looked for a berth on a fishing schooner. He finally found a spot aboard the schooner Puritan, which was bound for Los Angeles. With a crew of hard-bitten men, it was a tough billet for a young man of 17 years old and Hayden was unsure of whether to go. From his journal at the time: “Have decided to stick it out. I will think of Von Luckner and Jack London and the men in the Cape Horners and in the Grain Races and then this will not perhaps seem quite so bad…” For that trip he got 20 dollars and a letter from the skipper saying that he was strong and willing.

From there Hayden went back to Gloucester and met the famous Capt. Ben Pine who staked him $50 and got him a job on a beam trawler fishing the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. After that it was just one great adventure after another as Hayden developed a reputation in the small fishing community. He signed as mate on Irving Johnson’s famous Yankee for an around-the-world voyage. After arriving home he landed a berth aboard the schooner Gertrude L. Thebaud under the command of Pine for the famous series of schooner races between that vessel and the schooner Bluenose. It is here that the press discovered him. After the races, Hayden, at the ripe age of 22, and 11 of his buddies — most of whom didn’t know how to sail — took the 89-foot brigantine Florence C. Robinson from Gloucester to Tahiti. When the ship completed the 7,000-mile passage it was the subject of an editorial in the Boston Herald, which said in part, “These are not boys. They are young men. They are young men made of the stuff that makes America great. They are doers of constructive deeds. Their assignment was to deliver the brig to Tahiti. They delivered the brig to Tahiti.”

The story of his subsequent life is left best to the reader to discover in Hayden’s wonderful autobiography Wanderer. Hayden also wrote a novel of the sea called Voyage: A Novel of 1896. Both are still in print and should be in every main salon aboard every boat. Hayden’s life can’t be emulated, but it is instructive.

Let’s join Hayden aboard Robinson on its way to the South Seas. Panama is far behind them and with a sextant he prepares for a morning sun sight. The height of eye is 16 feet. The DR is 11° 50’ S  by 122° 04’ W. The day is March 30 and we will be using the 2009 Nautical Almanac. He is taking an upper limb shot of the sun. All times are in GMT.

At 17:33:15 GMT Hayden takes an upper limb sun sight. The Hs is 47° 18.7’.


A. Find the Ho.

B. Using sight reduction tables, find intercept.

C. Correct Zn.

D. Calculate EP by finding point on the LOP closest to the DR.



A. Ho is 46° 57.9’

B. Intercept is 10.1 nm Away

C. Zn is 070°

D. EP is 11° 56’ S by 122° 24’ W

By Ocean Navigator