Hal Roth

Hal Roth

Hal Roth (1927 – October 18, 2008)[1] was an American sailor and author. In 1971 he was awarded the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America. He died of lung cancer.

Hal Roth was an avid sailor and prolific sailing writer. The success of his first book, about the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, prompted him and his wife to try the precarious worlds of adventuring and writing. They quit their jobs, and began a 19 month voyage around the Pacific in a 35 foot sloop.[2] Their vast journey culminated in the publication of his first sailing book, "Two on a Big Ocean."

He and his wife, Margaret, subsequently made a life of sailing and writing about it, including sailing around South America and a circumnavigation via Panama, the Torres Strait, and Suez. He then raced single-handedly around the world in the 1986-87 BOC Challenge, finishing fourth in a class of fourteen.

History description from The Hal Roth Papers of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Historic Documents Department: Hal Roth was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1927. He was an aviator during World War II and the Korean War. During the course of his lifetime, Roth was also an author, sailor, mountaineer, and photographer. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Journalism, and became a free-lance writer and photographer. He studied photography with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. He worked as a photographer for the American Society of Magazine Photographers based in Sausalito, California and took countless images of life in the surrounding area of California during the late 1950s and into the late 1960s. Roth's free-lance works of note include magazine titles such as Colliers, Fortune, The Saturday Evening Post, and The New York Times. Themes of his work include: California landscapes and wildlife, San Francisco (including Fisherman's Wharf), Winter Olympics, Dr. Suess, and Native American wildland firefighters of the Southwest.

Hal was also engaged in photographic study of human life as represented by his "Time and Place" album and his Chinatown exhibit. In 1964, the San Francisco Museum of Art exhibited 40 of Roth's black and white photographic images titled "The Faces of Chinatown." Roth's first published book, Pathway in the Sky (1965) displays his passion for the John Muir Trail and the Sierra Mountains. The associated images of the John Muir Trail also reflect people enjoying the trail and document its use in the early 1960s.

In 1959, Roth met Margaret Hale-White from Oxford, England who was visiting a friend in San Francisco, California. Margaret was born in Bombay, India and was the daughter of an English engineer. According to Roth, she worked in Paris for six and a half years as a dual language secretary for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Sharing backgrounds in mountaineering and hiking and a love for adventure, they married in 1960.[3]

Even though neither was a sailor, their friends shared a love of sailing and introduced them to the sport in 1962. The couple chartered a boat in the West Indies where they learned a great deal from the captain. Later, they chartered another boat in Greece, then took sailing lessons in Scotland. After purchasing a home in Sausalito in 1964, they took a trip (1966) north along the west coast and purchased a fiberglass Spencer 35, built in Vancouver, British Columbia and designed by John Brandlmayr in Seattle, Washington. They named her Whisper, and sailed her home to California. The Roths began sailing on their own in 1966 and completed several voyages in Whisper. Destinations included Japan, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Canadian islands, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Cape Horn, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mediterranean, and Canary Islands. In 1978, they relocated to Maine.

Roth published hundreds of articles in his lifetime. Although, his book publications appear to be his dominate body of work and document the couple's voyages and growing knowledge of sailing. The 1972 account of their first circumnavigation of the Pacific Basin (1967-8) resulted in the publication Two on a Big Ocean. The Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America was awarded to the Hal Roth, and Margaret was noted as the sole crew, for this voyage. After 50,000 Miles (1977) describes technical aspects of sailing. The 1978 book Two against Cape Horn describes their journey from California to Maine via Cape Horn. Always a Distant Anchorage (1988) describes their four year (1981–1985) circumnavigation west through the Panama Canal, Torres Strait, the Red Sea, and the Suez Canal.

The couple sold Whisper and purchased the American Flag (later renamed Sebago) and Roth then sailed solo in the Brin's or British Oxygen Company (BOC) Challenge Race of 1986-7. He completed the race 4th in his class, taking 171 days. Chasing the Long Rainbow (1990) is his account of this BOC race. In 1990, he tried the race again in the same Santa Cruz 50 now named Sebago (his sponsor), but due to capsizing, the voyage took 211 days. Chasing the Wind (1994)is his account of the second race. In 1992, they sold Sebago, purchased a Pretorien 35, named her Whisper, and the couple spent two years together tracing Odysseus' voyage through the Mediterranean. We Followed Odysseus, How to Sail Around the World, and Handling Storms at Sea represent books that he wrote based on the couple's final unique voyages.

Roth recorded reminisces and continued to draft manuscripts throughout his life. His last two works, The Paradise Book and Graf Spee were completed but never published. He worked on these manuscripts during his later years and during his two and half year battle with lung cancer. He died October 18, 2008, while living in Maryland with his wife, Margaret, who survives him.[4]


(circumnavigation of the Pacific)

(suitable boats and equipment for voyaging)

(circumnavigation of South America)

(circumnavigation of the earth)

(racing in the BOC Challenge)

(the first single handed non-stop circumnavigation race 1968)

(following the route of the Odyssey)

(racing in the BOC Challenge, second race)

The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy : Three True Stories of Adventure Under Sail