On this April Fool’s day consider the tale of a small boat, the April Fool, that set sail from Casablanca on the coast of Africa bound for the Americas on the first day of the month of April, 1968. This should be a tale of inspiration and perserverance, after all the boat’s length was only five feet, eleven inches which is slightly taller or less tall than you or I perhaps and that is a small boat. With not much more room aboard than your average bathtub skipper Hugo Vihlen was a little cramped for space, he did carry some supplies, but determined to make his way west. Now John Waters, the film director was certainly brave when he stuck out his thumb and hitch-hiked from his home in Baltimore to San Francisco in 2012. But his bravery, at sixty six years of age, which might be considered greater than you or I, was paltry in comparison the that of Vihlen, a Delta Airlines and former Korean war pilot when he set out to cross over 4000 miles of open ocean.
This was before the days of constant electronic contact. He had no GPS, no satellite phone, no GoPro to document the voyage. He couldn’t press the button of a PRB. He was responsible for his own bailing. No chase vessel accompanied him. He set sail with little fanfare, no one thought much of his chances for success, and wasn’t greeted with a ticker tape parade, close only counts in horseshoes. Given the paucity of his resources it was striking he is remembered at all.
One couldn’t say things went well. The ocean, the currents, the wind, the weather and even the rays of the sun can be heartless and fickle. Suffice it to say he was scorched and wind burnt. He went hungry, his thirst was critical, he was tossed about relentlessly by never ending waves that threatened his tiny boat at every trough and crest. But he persevered and only fell about six miles short of his goal, Miami, Florida before the dangerous gulf stream currents and offshore breezes caused his parents enough concern to call in the Coast Guard. At thirty seven it’s a little embarassing to have your parents call the Coast Guard when you could almost swim to your destination.
So today is a good day to think of the the intrepid, the April fools, they are those that set a bar maybe too high for us to jump over but give us something to jump at, like the moon. People like the afore mentioned John Waters, who we may only think of as an overly fashion conscious cult movie director, take on a new luster when they dare. People who are beaten back six miles from achievement after a hundred day, 4000 mile pounding by the cruel Atlantic ocean only to attempt the feat again twenty five years later in an even smaller craft and succeed, well those should be remembered. We hope Mr. Vihlen, who is still alive in Florida, and Mr. Waters, who is still showing up in unexpected places, are good examples for all those who tell us what not to do.