Bill Pinkney, first Black man to sail around the world via Cape Horn, dies at 87

The Chicago native passed away after falling down a staircase and suffering a brain injury.

Captain Bill Pinkney, the second African American man to sail around the world solo and the first via Cape Horn, has died in Atlanta at age 87, Atlanta News First reports. 

The Chicago native passed away after falling down a staircase and suffering a brain injury.

First Black man to sail around the world, Bill Pinkney, dies at 87
Screenshot of Bill Pinkney / Credit YouTube PBS NewsHour

Pinkney’s passion for sailing remained constant throughout his career. According to his biography, he sailed the Great Lakes and oceans for over 30 years. In 1990, Pinkney was 55 when he decided to sail alone around the world on his cutter, The Commitment. Boston was the starting point of his journey, and he sailed east toward Cape of Good Hope, sailing around Cape Horn and entering the South Pacific before returning to Boston. He completed the trip in 1992.

The global expedition spanned 27,000 miles and lasted 22 months. Pinkney told a boating website that the highlight of the voyage was sailing past South Africa weeks following Nelson Mandela’s release from a South African prison after spending nearly three decades behind bars.

“I sailed past Robben Island, where he’d been imprisoned, flying a red, black, and green spinnaker, the colors of the African liberation movement,” said Pinkney. “As an afterthought, I should’ve put a big yellow Star of David on there as well [laughing], because I’m Jewish.”

In a subsequent voyage, Pinkney and his crew retraced the Middle Passage slave trade routes with the vessel Sortilege, according to his bio. 

Pinkney penned two children’s books: “Captain Bill Pinkney’s Journey” (1994) and “Sailing Commitment Around the World” (2022). His autobiography “As Long as It Takes” (2006) won the John Southam Award. The 1994 documentary “The Incredible Voyage of Bill Pinkney” received a George Foster Peabody Award.

He received numerous honors and awards, including recognition from President George H. W. Bush and Ted Kennedy. In 2021, he was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame and received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Boston Maritime Academy, Southern Connecticut State University, and Becker College awarded Pinkney honorary degrees.

As a former cosmetics executive, Pinkney created a line of women’s cosmetics after serving eight years in the Navy, where he first learned how to sail.

“I had some tough times, I got knocked down twice, passed through two hurricanes, almost got run over by a big ship, it’s all adversity, but it ends. You have to stick to your guns and keep moving forward and it will end,” Pinkney once said, per Fox 32.

Meanwhile, the first Black man to sail around the world alone was Teddy Seymour, who traveled through the Panama and Suez Canals, Atlanta First News reports. He completed the trip in 1987. 

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