EDWARD ALLCARD (1914-2017): A Life Well Lived

Edward 1958

Sad news from the mountain fastness of Andorra: Edward Cecil Allcard, born October 31, 1914, died last week on Friday, July 28, at age 102, of complications related to a broken leg he suffered on July 3. He was the very last of what some have termed the “Ulysses generation” of bluewater sailors, which included such notables as William Robinson, Miles and Beryl Smeeton, Bill Tilman, John Caldwell, and Ernle Bradford, among others, who took up the sport in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Edward, who I had the honor of visiting with last year, was himself quite notable. He was the first to sail across the Atlantic singlehanded in both directions, the first to race across the Atlantic singlehanded (against Peter Tangvald in 1957), and was, I believe, the last of his generation to swallow the anchor, as he didn’t give up his last boat, Johanne Regina, an old Baltic trader, until 2006, when he was 91 years old.

Edward’s first transatlantic voyage, which he sailed in 1949 from England to the U.S. aboard a 35-foot yawl, Temptress, was the subject of his first book, Single-Handed Passage, which appeared in 1950. The story of his reciprocal voyage in 1951, told in his second book, Temptress Returns (1952), earned him some notoriety in the yachting community and beyond, as a young Azorean woman managed to stowaway on his boat just before he left Faial in the Azores.


Edward’s stowaway, Otilia Frayão, aboard Temptress in Casablanca. On leaving Faial Edward had planned to sail only to São Miguel, but after Otilia revealed herself he gallantly agreed to take her all the way to the continent. They stayed in touch and she visited him in Andorra toward the end of his life

Edward found his second bluewater boat, named Wanderer (which he later renamed Sea Wanderer, at the insistence of Eric Hiscock), abandoned in the mud in the Hudson River in 1950, while visiting New York City aboard Temptress. He bought the hulk for $250, had her hauled and stored her under a tree and later returned to refit her. It was aboard this vessel, a 36-foot yawl he rerigged as a ketch, that he again doubled the Atlantic, from the U.S. to the U.K. and back to the West Indies. It was during the latter transit that he had his race with Tangvald, from the Canaries to Antigua, for a bet of one dollar. Edward subsequently worked in the budding West Indian charter trade for some time before embarking on a long non-stop 100-day voyage from Antigua to Montevideo, Uruguay. The bulk of these adventures are treated in his third book, Voyage Alone (1964).

Edward and Peter

Edward (left) with Peter Tangvald in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria before they set out on their great race. Though Tangvald had the longer boat, a 45-foot yawl called Windflower, he carried no engine. The two men agreed this was an appropriate handicap against the much shorter Sea Wanderer, which did have an engine. Edward, ever the gentleman, did not use his engine as much as he might have and lost the race to Tangvald by two days. Peter and Edward remained fast friends throughout their sailing careers

Sea Wanderer

Sea Wanderer on the hard in Puerto Williams, after Edward reached Patagonia. On the stern you’ll see a primitive self-steering apparatus. Edward’s earlier solo voyages were sailed with no self-steering gear at all

After cruising in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego for a year, Allcard continued on west around the planet aboard Sea Wanderer and finally concluded a rather protracted solo circumnavigation in 1973. During this time he also met his (second) wife-to-be, Clare Thompson, some 30 years his junior, who read an article about Edward in a newspaper she found on the floor of the psychiatric institution where she was being held. Clare wrote the great solo sailor a fan letter and things progressed naturally enough from there.

Edward took a break from voyaging in 1968 to drive with Clare from the U.K. to Singapore in a Land Rover. Their daughter Kate was born in 1969. On resuming his westward course aboard Sea Wanderer from Singapore in 1970 Edward went missing in the Indian Ocean and was more than three months overdue for Mombasa when he suddenly reappeared in an unexpected location.

Clare, after interminable waiting in Nairobi, Kenya, with toddler Kate, recalls suddenly receiving a telegram: “Delete Mombasa substitute Seychelles have found love nest come soonest.”

Sure enough, the couple bought a 17-acre coconut plantation there and settled in for a time before Edward continued sailing west in Sea Wanderer.


Clare, Kate, and Edward in the Seychelles

After Edward finally finished his circuit in the West Indies the family then moved aboard Johanne Regina, a 69-foot derelict gaff ketch they purchased in Antigua. They spent many years refitting this vessel as they sailed her from the Caribbean to Europe and on to the Seychelles to Southeast Asia and back to Europe, where they ultimately settled in Andorra. A part of these adventures, which include being arrested and held prisoner on the coast of Yemen, are related in Clare’s book A Gypsy Life (1992).

Edward bathing

Edward bathing aboard Johanne Regina. She now belongs to a Spanish non-profit organization and sails the Catalonian coast as Ciutat Badelona

An intriguing piece of Edward’s sailing past resounded and came back to him in 1991, when, at age 77, he became a foster father to Thomas Tangvald, then age 15, whose father Peter and sister Carmen were killed after Peter crashed his boat on a reef in Bonaire. It was a difficult transition for Edward, who told me bluntly when I met him in March of last year that he never really liked Thomas. Still he played his role conscientiously and was a mentor to Thomas, particularly in nautical matters. Tragically, however, Thomas himself was lost at sea during a singlehanded passage from French Guyana to Fernando do Noronha in 2014.

Though he obviously was running out of steam when I met him last year, Edward was a restless adventurous spirit, always testing himself, for the vast majority of his very long life. In his younger days he was an avid motorcyclist and was still hitting the slopes as a downhill skier well into his 90s. Just last year too (with a good deal of help from Clare) he managed to publish his fourth and last book, Solo around Cape Horn—and beyond, which recounts the tale of his groundbreaking cruise around the southern tip of South America.

Edward at 101

Edward when I met him, age 101, on the verge of publishing one more book about sailing

I’m just finishing it now and can highly recommend it.

May the old salt rest in peace. My heart goes out to those who have survived him: his wife Clare, daughter Dona (from his first marriage), and daughter Kate.

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21 Responses
  1. Paul Gelder

    A fine, heartfelt tribute to an amazing man who lived an extraordinary life. It makes one feel lucky to have lived in the shadow of that ‘Ulysses generation’ of bluewater sailors and met some of their family. I just spoke on the phone with Mark Fishwick, who was rowing ashore in Falmouth UK from Edward’s 1910-built yawl, Temptress, which he bought in 1973, never imagining that 44 years on he’d be steering her into a second century afloat. He loves that boat and her history! Mark, author of the West Country pilotage guide, said he’ll be raising a glass to Edward in Temptress’s cosy saloon today. He told me that yesterday, weather-bound in Falmouth, he had uncannily dug out one Edward’s books to read and was wondering how he was.

  2. Jill (Mollymawk)

    An excellent summary of the great man’s life. We are, at this moment, sailing in his wake – up the coast of Chiloe – and we think of him often.

  3. Libby Edwards

    What a great tribute to a great adventurer. I am going to check the books right now. Thank you for the introduction to a great voyager!

  4. Peter G

    A wonderful honorary uncle who I have known all my life, our family connection through four generations has left me with the most amazing memories, he and his sister Mary showed me the way and it has been a wonderful blessing to have known them. Dear Clare our thoughts and prayers are with you, Kate and Donna. Love Peter

  5. Rosa Diaz Manero

    Forever alive i our memories, and through the seas by the Ciutat Badalona , your Johanne Regina. Thanks a lot!!!

  6. Doreen Johnstone

    Thank you for that article which encapsulates an amazing life of steady hands and bravery. It seems that Edward’s achievements had no interest in acclaim. He just went with his knowledge and love of the sea – with Claire and Katy in tow ! Thank you Claire for taking us ‘on board’ – with Edward’s tolerance
    – from time to time.! “Never to be forgotten “….Doreen

  7. kayeandjack

    It was our privilege to meet Edward when he came to Bonaire and Curacao – what an intriguing and interesting man whose life and adventures we continued to follow. Our love and condolences to Clare, Donna and Kate.

  8. Toby

    You mention his daughter from his first marriage, but no actual mention of that marriage. Is there any reason for this? Would be interested to know when it was and who it was to.

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