African-American Transportation History: Captain Bill Pinkney

In the early 1990s, William Pinkney became the first African-American – and only the fourth person in the world – to travel around the globe on his own via boat. Pinkney, who was born in Chicago in 1935, received post-high school training as an x-ray technician. From 1956 to 1960, he served in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman. Over the next three decades, Pinkney held variety of jobs that ranged from being a professional limbo dancer in Puerto Rico to working for the cosmetics company Revlon in New York. Of all of this jobs, however, it was his stint as a crewman on sailboats during his time in Puerto Rico that made the strongest impact.

Pinkney maintained his enthusiasm for sailing and even became proficient at handling a boat out on the water by himself. When he was 50, Pinkney began to seriously contemplate which new challenges he could take on and what kind of legacy he could leave behind for his grandchildren. He seized upon the idea of undertaking a solo boat ride around the world and soon found himself making plans for such a formidable voyage.

After receiving funding from such sources as industrialist Armand Hammer, Pinkney (55 by this time) set sail from Boston Harbor for his ambitious journey on August 5, 1990. He traveled on a 47-foot-long boat called The Commitment.
During the course of his record-setting voyage, Pinkney made stops at Bermuda, Brazil, South Africa, and – in a place where he would remain for six months due to weather-related delays – Australia. Pinkney also managed to safely navigate around South America’s Cape Horn, one of the most difficult passages for any sailor. Pinkney finally made it back to Boston Harbor on June 9, 1992. Altogether, his voyage took 22 months and covered 27,000 miles. Pinkney has since received several awards, which have included being named as the Chicago Yacht Club’s Yachtsman of the Year, and travels around the country as a motivational speaker.

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