A Brief History
On May 13, 1958, Australian adventurer and master of WTF, Frederick Benjamin “Ben” Carlin completed a most unlikely circumnavigation of the Earth, accomplished over a 10 year period and in an amphibious vehicle, a World War II amphibious version of the American Jeep!
Carlin first attempted a crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in his Ford GPA he fittingly named Half-Safe in 1947 (Should he have named it “Less Than Half-Safe?”), but suffered a few failures over the next couple years. The successful crossing began in 1950, incredibly beyond even the cheeky nature of the attempt in itself, Carlin took as his traveling companion his wife! The amphibious Ford Jeep had been modified for better seakeeping qualities, with the superstructure built up and floating fuel barges towed behind. With provisions for 6 weeks aboard, the gutsy pair made landfall in the Azores 32 days later.
From there it was on to Morocco, the Middle East, and Europe, settling in England in 1952 to rest and repair their Jeep. It seems the couple had not surprisingly suffered hallucinations during their long stint at sea, causing navigation problems among other things. In 1955 it was back to the Continent with travel through Europe and the Middle East to India, an overland trip as harrowing as the sea voyage had been.
From Calcutta the Carlins and Half-Safe were transported by ship to Australia where they toured the country, but Carlin’s wife quit the trip in 1955, worn out and seasick from water portions of the journey. Again, no surprise, the couple divorced in 1955. (Carlin picked up a new travel pal at this time.) Half-Safe was sent back to Calcutta, where another sea leg of the trip was conducted to Burma, then it was overland again to Saigon, where another sea leg to Japan followed, with stops at Hong Kong and other ports along the way. It was time for more rest and repairs in Japan, sailing for the Aleutian Islands in 1957.
Carlin made it to the Alaska mainland at Homer, and drove to Anchorage, and then through Canada down the Alaska Highway to San Francisco where he reunited with his wife after 2 years apart. From there it was on to Toronto on May 8, 1958, and finally back to Montreal 3 days later, completing his circumnavigation of the Earth by amphibious Jeep! Carlin and Half-Safe had traveled 11,050 miles by sea and another 38,987 miles by land during his 10 year odyssey. Although the fantastic trip cost him about $35,000, this cost was offset by fundraisers and supporters along the way, and Carlin writing of his journeys.
Carlin died of a heart attack in Perth, Australia, in 1981 at the age of 68. The Guinness World Record people recognize Carlin as the one and only person to have circumnavigated the Earth by amphibious vehicle. Ford Motor Company, the manufacturer of Half-Safe in 1942, refused an offer to sponsor Carlin’s trip, thinking the GPA would never make it all the way around the World! Half-Safe today is on display at Carlin’s old grammar school in Australia.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever circumnavigated the world? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Nestor, James. Half-Safe: A Story of Love, Obsession, and History’s Most Insane Around-the-world Adventure (Kindle Single). The Atavist, 2012.