In January 1883, Howard Blackburn was trawling in a two-man dory with Tom Welch when a winter storm separated them from their mother ship, the Grace L. Fears. Blackburn froze his hands to the oars, rowing north for five days and 60 miles. Blackburn landed on Newfoundland’s shore with his crewmates body. A family found Blackburn and during the long winter nursed him back to health. In Gloucester he had been given up for lost, but when Blackburn returned—without most of his toes and fingers—he was a hero. He ran a saloon for much of his life, but also made tremendous solo voyages: rowing along the coast of Florida and sailing twice across the Atlantic: to England in 1899, and three years later in a recordsetting 39 days to Lisbon. Blackburn is buried in the Beechbrook Cemetery in West Gloucester.
Joseph E. Garland author/historian
Sailor and undaunted adventurer, Howard Blackburn, opened a tavern and shop on Main Street in 1886, The Old Blackburn Tavern. Halibut Point restaurant is located within this historic building now.
Despite disabilities sustained from a harrowing voyage when he was 20 years of age, Captain Blackburn continued to complete daring voyages and operate this successful business. He was a beloved raconteur. Halibut Point restaurant has been at this location for 30 years. Original, contemporary fine art photography and prints are on display.
History of Blackburn Challenge: Cape Ann Rowing Club
Blackburn Challenge both celebrates and helps to keep alive the story of Howard Blackburn’s desperate mid-winter 1883 rowing of a small fishing dory from the Burgeo Bank fishing grounds to refuge on the south coast of Newfoundland. Though Blackburn survived he ultimately suffered the loss of most of his fingers and toes due to frostbite. In spite of his handicap, he later went on to twice sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean, earning himself the title “The Fingerless Navigator”. His story is told in Joseph E. Garland’s “Lone Voyager”.