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Bill Pinkney: Thinking big and delivering

Published on September 6th, 2023

After falling down a staircase and suffering a brain injury on August 31, 2023, Bill Pinkney died at the age of 87 in Atlanta, GA. A member of the 2021 Class of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, Lynn Fitzpatrick reminds us how Pinkney’s legacy lives on:

Bill Pinkney had a dream, donors, and deliverables. Additionally, he brought diversity into the ranks of solo circumnavigators.

No matter who you are, circling the world alone on a 47-foot boat is a big idea. When you have your eyes on a $250,000 boat, and only possess some donated electronics and a stash of Scopolamine patches, and you are burning through your very limited cash supply, you have to rely on a bit of luck that your message will reach a receptive audience.

Imagine a brilliant Boston real estate financier and amateur sailor about to fund Chicago’s iconic Sears Tower reading a New York Times article about a dreamer, sharing the article with his partners, and suggesting the group invest some of their profits for the social good of Chicago and Boston school children by backing an ambitious Black sailor.

The Boston real estate group did their due diligence on Pinkney, the Valiant 47 Pinkney had identified, and the educational program Bill had outlined. A partners’ meeting in Boston followed the Chicago reconnaissance mission. After determining that the overall plan was feasible, the Bostonians added more flesh to the bones and recruited more champions for the educational cause.

A contract was drawn and the team marched forward. Pinkney made a commitment to share his journey and his vessel, Commitment, as a floating classroom and inspiration for students in Chicago, Boston, and everywhere else he made landfall from August 1990 through June 1992.

Pinkney and his dedicated support team delivered consistent content to his audience; an educational program; and lessons on goal setting, self-reliance, math, science, geography, social studies, and perseverance.

Audio, video, written copy, speaking engagements, and documentaries remain as his legacy as the first Black sailor to solo circumnavigate around the southern capes, not to mention the accomplishments of the youth who followed his journey.

Others may attempt to diminish his achievement or credit someone else for an earlier or comparable feat, but as sailors and students of life, we owe him and those who supported him gratitude for thinking big, putting it all on the line, and delivering.

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