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Recalling adventurer John Fairfax: the San Francisco connection

Monday, February 20, 2012

imageTurns out there’s a San Francisco angle to the retelling of “professional adventurer” John Fairfax’s life. The British-born, Argentina-raised Fairfax, who died Feb. 8 near Las Vegas at the age of 74, was the first person in recorded history to row solo across the Atlantic. That’s among many other things, including being an ocelot hunter, cigarette smuggler, shark fighter, mink farm operator and authority on baccarat.

Add: Not to mention that he left home at age 13 to “live like Tarzan”  in the South American jungle. As for the San Francisco link, it involves the second of his famous voyages, across the Pacific in a rowboat with his girlfriend at the time, Sylvia Cook (that’s them in an old UPI photo). From Adam Bernstein’s obit in the Washington Post:

Loneliness was less a factor on his next voyage, planned from San Francisco to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. He brought along his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, a London art gallery secretary who might have seemed underqualified because of her inability to swim.

On April 26, 1971, they boarded a 30-foot, Fox-designed vessel christened Britannia II. Over the next 361 days, they were blown down to Mexico by a storm and survived a cyclone by strapping themselves in leather harnesses. There were shark attacks, and Mr. Fairfax suffered a gash in his upper right arm from a shark bite. “It was not really the shark’s fault — it was mine,” he told a reporter. “I had speared a fish, and the shark took it off my spear. So I speared him and he did not like it, so he had a go at me.”

He and Cook said they enjoyed each other’s company and would part as friends. Reporters eager for the “Adam and Eve” angle — two comely people, alone at sea for nearly a year — were disappointed. As Cook told The Washington Post after the journey, the bed was soaking wet all the time. “You try it in a crummy little boat like Britannia at sea,” she said.

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