John Fairfax died on February 8, 2012. I hadn’t really heard of him until someone at work told me about his obituary. He’s best known for having rowed across a couple oceans, but he had an incredible life.

This reads like a Dos Equis commercial:

At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle.

At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler.

Please read the whole story here.

He completed his row across the Atlantic on July 19, 1969.  Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would walk on the moon the next day, and they actually congratulated him:

May we of Apollo 11 add our sincere congratulations to the many you have undoubtedly already received for your bold and courageous feat of rowing alone across the Atlantic. We who sail what President Kennedy once called “The new ocean of space” are pleased to pay our respects to the man who, single handedly, has conquered the still formidable ocean of water. We find it an interesting coincidence that you completed your arduous voyage here on earth at a spot very near the one from which we started our voyage to the moon. And that you arrived at your destination quite near the time that we reached ours. Yours, however, was the accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you on this great occasion.

Some people (somewhat understandably) didn’t believe him:

When a local reporter was unable to believe that Fairfax could kill a shark, Fairfax rented a boat, poured fish blood into the water and did for a “decent-sized” specimen. He proceeded to dump its body on the doorstep of the newspaper’s office.

“I wonder, for the first time, what the hell am I doing here. Money? No, people don’t do this sort of thing for money, certainly not me… Or am I trying to prove something? To myself or others? Surely not to others. And what can I prove to myself that I don’t know already? What, then? Maybe I will find the answer before the journey is finished. And maybe I won’t. What does it matter? I am enjoying myself, doing something I have yearned to do for sixteen years, and there is not a single thing I regret, whatever the outcome. I am doing what I have always loved to do, being part of and fight against Nature.”

February 16, 27th day

I don’t usually make these sorts of topical log entries, or simply post lists of quotes and links, but I find this extraordinary. This guy is amazing (not to mention somewhat nautical, despite his assertion that “almost anybody with a little bit of know-how can sail”). I feel compelled to include “our thoughts go out to his friends and family,” or something similarly unhelpful that falls into the category of things you’re supposed to say when someone dies, but given how thoroughly he lived, focusing on his death seems to miss the point. I hope to someday be able to include “adventurer” on my curriculum vitæ, even if it’s at a tiny fraction of the heavyweights.

As always, we welcome your comments.


"Prepare to fend off the bridge abutment."