Tim Severin, Seafarer Who Replicated Explorers’ Journeys, Dies at 80


Tim Severin, a British adventurer who for 40 years meticulously replicated the journeys of real and mythic explorers like St. Brendan the Navigator, Sinbad the Sailor and Marco Polo, died on Dec. 18 at his home in West Cork, Ireland. He was 80.

His daughter, Ida Ashworth, said the cause was cancer.

In May 1976, Mr. Severin left Ireland on his most audacious voyage: following in the wake of St. Brendan, a sixth-century monk, who, with a party of other monks, is said to have made a spectacular journey from Ireland across the Atlantic to the “Promised Land” in a leather-wrapped boat.

St. Brendan was a sailor who spread the Gospel in his trips around Ireland, Scotland and Wales. If the tale of his trip to the Americas were true, he would have beaten Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus by centuries.

After studying an account of the trip — in a medieval Latin text written many years later titled “Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis” or “The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot” — Mr. Severin assembled a team of designers and craftsmen, who helped him build a vessel. The 36-foot two-masted boat of oak and ash was covered in oxhide a quarter-inch thick.

The Brendan survived the strait but ice precluded making landfall in Greenland, so the Brendan sailed around it. But they soon found themselves shrouded in fog — no one responded to the boat’s emergency radio beacon — then slowed by patches of melting ice in the Labrador Sea.

Finally, on June 26, 1977, the Brendan arrived on the Newfoundland coast.

The purpose of the trip, he said, “was to show that the technology of the Irish monks was capable of reaching North America.” He added that he could not be certain that St. Brendan and his crew had sailed to North America, only that it could have been done.

Mr. Severin, who financed his adventures with book advances and other sources, wrote “The Brendan Voyage,” published in 1978, about the trip.

A review of the book in The Guardian called the journey the “most remarkable sea voyage since Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove that a balsa raft could cross the Pacific.”

Mr. Severin was born Giles Timothy Watkins on Sept. 25, 1940, in Jorhat, Assam, in northwest India, where his father, Maurice Watkins, managed a tea plantation, and his mother, Inge (Severin) Watkins, was a housewife.

Tim’s wanderlust was ignited by his early years in India — where, he said in a 2015 interview on his publisher’s website, “the entire family environment was one of living and traveling in far-flung, often exotic places.” And it grew at boarding school in Tonbridge in Kent, England, where he read adventure books that fired his imagination.



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