Four Boys &
IN THE 1890s, St. Joseph was the second busiest port on Lake Michigan, and young Ken Ransom grew up sailing and studying the commercial boats that frequented the harbor. He knew nothing about river- boats, though, and had never been within 800 miles of saltwater when he began planning to circumnavigate the eastern United States. His “Eureka!” moment came
in the autumn of 1897, while he was building a boat for himself in a shed on his parents’ property. Thumbing through
an atlas, he realized he could sail his boat through Chicago
to the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Sailing around Florida
and up the East Coast would bring him to New York and the
Hudson River. The Erie Canal would bring him back to the
Great Lakes and to St. Joseph. The journey would be a great
adventure, and he’d see the rivers and saltwater firsthand.
His account of the voyage, on which this story is based, was
serialized in The American Boy Magazine, running monthly
from February 1900 to May 1901.
He needed both a boat and a crew to make this voyage, so he
recruited three high-school friends, Frank Chauvet and cousins
Art and Clyde Morrow. All four boys were 18, and after much discussion, their families consented to the journey. Captain Ransom
had his crew.
THE VOYAGE OF GAZELLE
After nine months of sweating, shaping, and fitting Michigan white-oak boards to Ken’s design, they launched the boat on August 4,
1898, and christened her Gazelle. She was a gaff-rigged yawl, 30 feet
long overall, 22 feet at the waterline, with a nine-foot beam and three-foot draft with the centerboard raised. The cabin was 14 feet long
with six feet of headroom. The coal oil-fueled galley was forward. Two
berths were forward, two aft. Lockers and personal storage were under
the berths. Tables for dining and writing were hinged to both sides of
the centerboard well.
The crew spent two months fitting out and provisioning Gazelle,
equipping her with the latest navigation gear available – compass,
barometer, thermometer, lead line, and binoculars. On October 30,
in late afternoon, Ken and his crew sailed for Chicago. The Chicago
BY BRUCE ARMSTRONG
In the fall of 1898, young Ken Ransom and
three school friends set out to sail around the
eastern half of the United States, blazing the trail
that would become known as The Great Loop