Sailing Commitment around the World is a must read for every young sailor and should be available at every sailing club and school, says Julia Jones

Sailing Commitment around the World
Captain Bill Pinkney (illustrated by Pamela C Rice)
Independent Publication $28/£22.40 

Captain Bill Pinkney was not the first black yachtsman to sail solo around the world: that honour belongs – officially – to the little-known Teddy Seymour who completed his circumnavigation in 1987.

Seymour was a teacher in the US Virgin Islands, starting and finishing his 15-month, low budget voyage from St Croix.

He was also a runner, a former US Marine and a Vietnam veteran.

His achievement is recognised by the Joshua Slocum Society and honoured by the annual Toast-to-the-Captain road race in the US Virgin Islands.

William Pinkney is, however, the first black solo circumnavigator to sail via the five Great Capes.

He had served in the US Navy and built a career in the cosmetics industry in his native Chicago.

Thirty years sailing on the great lakes inspired him to begin his successful attempt in 1990 (he finished in 1992) – when there was still apartheid in South Africa.

He chose ANC colours for his spinnaker and assumed he wouldn’t want to stay long.

Nevertheless he made friends and discovered that ‘even through the law says people should separate, people themselves didn’t believe that.’

This was a historic moment when Nelson Mandela had recently been released from prison.

Among the people he met was Neal Petersen who would later become the first black yachtsman to sail solo around the world without stopping.

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The visit to South Africa is one of the rare moments in the picture book when Bill Pinkney’s colour is an issue.

Sailing Commitment around the World is about a sailing experience, not skin colour.

Commitment is the name of his Valiant 47 yacht as well as a prime quality needed for such an achievement.

He writes of the highs and lows of circumnavigation, its problems and pleasures in a way that would educate any young reader.

In his introduction, however, he describes his time in school when he was a lonely outsider, then how his life changed when he read the inspirational novel Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry.

Clearly he wishes to have a similar influence on other uncertain young people.

When he set off on his circumnavigation almost half a century later, he felt that his main responsibility was to the 30,000 school children in Boston and Chicago who were following his progress.

Much of his communication has been via video and public speaking.

As Long as it Takes, an account of his circumnavigation for adult readers was published in 2007.

Thirty years after his achievement, black people are massively underrepresented in sailing at every level.

The impetus for this publication comes from the Chicago Maritime Museum and I’d be advocating for a copy to be standard in every sailing club with a junior section – or every primary school that might feed into that sailing club.

It feels important that sailing should present itself to future generations as an inclusive as well as an eco-friendly activity.

Regrettably this book is only available from US sources and specialist black booksellers.

Still, we live in a global marketplace and should not be deterred.

Bill Pinkney’s website – – offers free shipping, and the book is also available here from the specialist bookshop, AALBC

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