Two Vancouver Island authors have uncovered the true story of a legendary deep-sea sailing mission that launched in Victoria and went around the world in what some may call an unconventional vessel.
Around the World in a Dugout Canoe: The Untold Story of Captain John Voss and the Tilikum will hit shelves on Saturday, Sept. 28.
It tells the story of Captain John Voss, his various crew members, and their journeys on his ship the Tilikum. It was written by Qualicum Beach’s John M. MacFarlane, and co-authored by Lynn J. Salmon of Courtenay.
MacFarlane is the curator emeritus of the Martime Museum of British Columbia, which is how he came to be so entranced by Voss’s voyages in the first place.
Residents of Victoria may remember seeing Voss’s notorious vessel grace several locations in the city before finally settling in its current home at the museum.
“Every day when I turned on the lights in the place, I had to go right by the Tilikum and I would run my hand along it as I went towards the lights. I began to really investigate and wonder about the voyage,” said MacFarlane.
This curiosity would lead to a twenty-year journey in research. Along the way, MacFarlane consulted thousands of newspaper clippings from around the world, as well as photos, letters and testimonials. He even eventually stumbled upon a transcript of Voss’ original log book.
Voss launched the voyage out of Victoria and from there he sailed almost the entire circumference of the world in the Tilikum, 10-metre dugout canoe with three sails.
From Victoria he sailed west through the South Pacific Islands to Fiji, then to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil.
“He intended to become a combination of the Kardashians and the stars of the Game of Thrones, kind of thing. And you know, in his day, he was that popular. All of the newspapers around the world picked up stories off the wire services, and were reporting every move that he made,” said MacFarlane.
“When he would arrive in a port, thousands of people would turn out to watch him come in, and then they would pay a small sum to listen to him speak and to do a tour of his vessel.”
“He was a character. No one had ever heard of anybody doing this before. And his boat, being a dugout canoe, was about the strangest looking vessel that people had ever seen.”
MacFarlane says that although Voss claimed he went around the world, where he landed in Brazil was a few degrees short of where he had started in Victoria.
From Brazil, Voss went to England, where he lectured to Royal Geographical Society and exhibited the Tilikum in Earl’s Court. After he tired of that, he sold the boat and went on to become a treasure hunter and a whaler. He eventually settled in California, completely broke, and worked as a taxi driver.
He eventually died of pneumonia in Tracy, Calif.
“I think that he was evolving throughout his life. He started out as a pretty simple, basic, rigid, authoritiarian, gruff kind of character. And at the end of his life he became a charming, engaging, world-savvy kind of person. It’s really a story of growth, that’s what I noticed. He grew constantly through the voyage,” said MacFarlane.
Voss did publish a book about the expedition, but from the research conducted by MacFarlane and Salmon, it wasn’t the most accurate depiction of the journey.
“The real voyage was better than what they described,” said MacFarlane.
Nonetheless, the initial book published by Voss has been in print since its publication 110 years ago, and has been translated into 12 languages.
Fans of mystery take note — MacFarlane and Salmon’s book also delves into a century-old cold case following the death of one of Voss’s mates.
MacFarlane and Salmon will be signing copies of Around the World in a Dugout Canoe on Sept. 28, at 1 p.m. at Mulberry Bush Book Store in Qualicum Beach.