Tim Severin, Seafarer Who Replicated Explorers’ Journeys, Dies at 80


Tim Severin, a British adventurer who for 40 years meticulously replicated the journeys of actual and mythic explorers like St. Brendan the Navigator, Sinbad the Sailor and Marco Polo, died on Dec. 18 at his residence in West Cork, Eire. He was 80.

His daughter, Ida Ashworth, mentioned the trigger was most cancers.

In Might 1976, Mr. Severin left Eire on his most audacious voyage: following within the wake of St. Brendan, a sixth-century monk, who, with a celebration of different monks, is alleged to have made a spectacular journey from Eire throughout the Atlantic to the “Promised Land” in a leather-wrapped boat.

St. Brendan was a sailor who unfold the Gospel in his journeys round Eire, Scotland and Wales. If the story of his journey to the Americas have been true, he would have overwhelmed Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus by centuries.

After learning an account of the journey — in a medieval Latin textual content written a few years later titled “Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis” or “The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot” — Mr. Severin assembled a staff of designers and craftsmen, who helped him construct a vessel. The 36-foot two-masted boat of oak and ash was lined in oxhide a quarter-inch thick.

The small crew of the boat, referred to as the Brendan, set off from Brandon Creek, on the Dingle Peninsula, on the west coast of Eire. They sailed north to the Hebrides islands and west to the Faroe Islands on a course for Iceland. Whales visited, day after day, sticking close to the boat; Mr. Severin thought they could have mistaken the boat for one more whale.

Their arrival in Reykjavik in August 1976 allowed them to scrutinize the situation of the Brendan. After scraping off barnacles, they discovered that the leather-based had held. However due to pack ice that may make it unattainable to navigate, the crew saved the Brendan, and returned residence to await higher circumstances.

When the crew boarded the Brendan once more in the summertime of 1977, they headed to Greenland, the place they must go by means of the Denmark Strait, a deadly channel.

“We knew this was going to be the actual take a look at of the boat,” Mr. Severin said in a lecture in 2012 at Gresham College in London. “It was inevitable that within the Denmark Strait we’d get horrible climate. However we’d dedicated ourselves that there was no turning again.”

The Brendan survived the strait however ice precluded making landfall in Greenland, so the Brendan sailed round it. However they quickly discovered themselves shrouded in fog — nobody responded to the boat’s emergency radio beacon — then slowed by patches of melting ice within the Labrador Sea.

Lastly, on June 26, 1977, the Brendan arrived on the Newfoundland coast.

The aim of the journey, he mentioned, “was to indicate that the know-how of the Irish monks was able to reaching North America.” He added that he couldn’t make sure that St. Brendan and his crew had sailed to North America, solely that it may have been accomplished.

Mr. Severin, who financed his adventures with e book advances and different sources, wrote “The Brendan Voyage,” revealed in 1978, concerning the journey.

A evaluate of the e book in The Guardian referred to as the journey the “most exceptional sea voyage since Thor Heyerdahl got down to show {that a} balsa raft may cross the Pacific.”

Mr. Severin was born Giles Timothy Watkins on Sept. 25, 1940, in Jorhat, Assam, in northwest India, the place his father, Maurice Watkins, managed a tea plantation, and his mom, Inge (Severin) Watkins, was a housewife.

Tim’s wanderlust was ignited by his early years in India — the place, he mentioned in a 2015 interview on his writer’s web site, “the complete household setting was certainly one of dwelling and touring in far-flung, typically unique locations.” And it grew at boarding faculty in Tonbridge in Kent, England, the place he learn journey books that fired his creativeness.

He adopted the Severin surname to honor the maternal grandmother who taken care of him in England whereas his dad and mom have been in India.

He earned levels at Oxford in historical past and geography. In 1961, whereas nonetheless learning there, he and two different college students traced Marco Polo’s caravan route on bikes: They began in Venice, then traveled to the Chinese language border in northwest Afghanistan, down the Grand Trunk Highway in India and accomplished the journey in Calcutta.

The journey led to his first e book — “Monitoring Marco Polo” (1964) — and a profession of adventuring. To discover the tales of the fictional mariner Sinbad the Sailor, Mr. Severin sailed from Muscat in Oman to China in a reproduction of an Arab crusing ship. To observe the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and that of Ulysses, he traveled in a reproduction of a Bronze Age galley.

His different adventures included driving horseback with Mongolian nomads to discover the heritage of Genghis Khan; retracing the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s path by means of the Spice Islands in a prahu, a sort of crusing boat; and exploring whether or not a white whale like Moby Dick ever existed.

In his review of “In Search of Moby Dick” (2000) in The New York Instances, W. Jeffrey Bolster wrote, “Severin operates on the intersection of creativeness, motion and fantasy, as ripe a spot as any for locating a wondrous white whale.”

He wrote greater than 20 books — accounts of his journeys and historic novels that drew upon his expeditions.

“Writing about my very own travels requires me to be sharper, extra exact, extra outlined as a way to recount what occurred,” he mentioned in an interview on the web site of his writer when his novel “The Pope’s Assassin” got here out in 2016. “Against this, writing historic fiction is a looser, extra evocative course of that invokes the creativeness and permits the story line to take its personal course.”

In his final main journey, he sought the true origins of Daniel Defoe’s fictional castaway Robinson Crusoe on islands the place shipwrecks occurred and in Central and South America. His e book, “In Search of Robinson Crusoe,” was revealed in 2003.

Along with his daughter, Mr. Severin is survived by his spouse, Dee (Pieters) Severin, and two grandsons. His first marriage, to Dorothy Sherman, resulted in divorce.

Mr. Severin’s first spouse — a specialist in medieval Spanish literature — performed a task in his determination to recreate St. Brendan’s expedition. Whereas studying “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” she informed Mr. Severin that the story had considerably extra sensible element than most medieval texts.

“It tells you concerning the geography of the locations Brendan visits,” he recalled her telling him in “The Brandon Voyage.” “It fastidiously describes the progress of the voyage, the time and distances and so forth. It appears to me that the textual content is just not a lot a legend as a story that’s embroidering a firsthand expertise.”

Mr. Severin quickly created his personal legendary story.


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