At 103, local sailor recalls his journeys around the world
by Miranda Evon | photography by S.P. Murray
When Marvin Creamer was five years old, his father had him stand at the Southwest corner of their barn in Vineland, New Jersey. Note, he told him, the place on the horizon where the sun sets. Day after day, Creamer watched to see if the sun set in the same place. Over time he realized the sun disappeared in different spots on the horizon with the changing seasons. “I regret never asking him why he had us watching sunsets,” says Creamer, who’s now 103 and living in North Raleigh. But that practice gave him one of the tools he’d need to achieve a lifelong dream: to sail around the world without navigational equipment.
Creamer’s fascination with sailboats started at a young age, too. In 1921—the same time he’d watch the sun set–his father attempted to build a toy boat out of white pine board and home-sewn muslin. “By model sailboat standards, it was cruel,” he laughs. “But I thought it was the most beautiful thing on earth.” Creamer and his older brother took to building real sailboats, teaching themselves how to sail and sailing out on the lake by their house. He knew at a young age that he wanted to be a sailor. His instincts came in part from his education—Creamer studied geography, later teaching the subject at Glassboro University (now Rowan University) before retiring in 1977. While he says he was never properly taught how to sail, Creamer took classes that would later help him—meteorology, oceanography and zoology. Between his time teaching and growing a family of his own, he still made time for his hobby—sailing around and across the Atlantic. And although he never received formal lessons, Creamer always pushed boundaries while on the water.
On his first trip without navigational tools—not a watch, map or a compass—Creamer departed from Ireland in 1978 with his then 19-year-old son, Kurt Creamer. “My favorite memory was being able to talk with my dad about many things that we never seemed to have time for before,” says Kurt Creamer. The pair, along with a neighbor in New Jersey, traveled 3,400 miles across the Atlantic. When they arrived back at the New Jersey port, a reporter from The New York Times asked Creamer if he had ever thought about sailing around the world instead of just across the Atlantic. “I couldn’t lie,” he says. “So I told her that I’d always wanted to do a circumnavigation. I’d wondered whether it’s possible.”
So a few years later, he tried it. From December 1982 to May 1984 Creamer, along with a crew of friends, guided his 36-foot sailboat, the Globe Star, around the world without any navigational instruments. The course was determined solely by the surrounding nature: positions of the stars, waves, the color of the water, the passage of the sun and flights of migrating birds. The crew began their trip in Cape May, New Jersey, sailing to their first stop in Cape Town, South Africa. They sailed out at dusk on the first night of winter. “The sky was grey, covered in clouds. It was freezing and the air was still,” he says. “You wouldn’t think, but it was perfect.”
For 17 months, Creamer and his fluctuating crew sailed to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Falklands and through Drakes Passage—the deadliest part of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans between Antarctica and South America. And the final leg of their journey was sailing back home to New Jersey, completing the trip of a lifetime.
Following his sailing career, Creamer and his wife, Blanche, moved to the N.C. coast at Pine Knoll Shores, to a quiet home on the canal—with enough room for a sailboat, of course. Kurt Creamer says he and his dad would go clamming at Core Sound a few miles north of Pine Knoll Shores. “Although even in his 80s he typically raked more clams than me,” says Kurt Creamer. Kurt Creamer says that his dad joined him at age 95, with his two nephews on a sail from Maine to North Carolina. “It was simply remarkable to me that he still enjoyed the rigors of ocean sailing at that age.” Kurt Creamer says he still sails on his cruising sailboat and small catamaran, while his dad retired his sea legs a few years ago.
Although Creamer’s sailing was primarily a solitary pursuit, it would not have been possible without his wife’s support. He reflects on his 59 years with his wife, Blanche, who passed away in 2005. She was never opposed to him sailing, until he planned to sail around the world, leaving him absent for a year and a half. Creamer recalls her saying: “why would I want you going off for a year and a half? You’re the best friend I ever had.” Despite her misgivings, she helped him prepare for the trip and looked forward to long distance phone calls when he would find a phone at port.
In 2018, Creamer moved to Raleigh to be closer to his son and one of his two daughters. In his apartment at Atria Oakridge, he’s surrounded by model sailboats and miniature flags of the places he’s sailed to. He tells stories of his worldly travels to any neighbor with an open ear, remembering every detail down to specific dates and names of friends that accompanied him while sailing.
Creamer says his life is filled with oddities, one of them being his age. Before reaching the century mark, his physician told him he might make it to 100. Now 103, Creamer says he just keeps waking up everyday. “I’ve lived a life of adventure. It’s a good feeling to know I was able to carry out one of my dreams.”