In January 1883, Howard Blackburn was trawling in a two-man dory with Tom Welch when a winter storm separated them from their mother ship, the Grace L. Fears. Blackburn froze his hands to the oars, rowing north for five days and 60 miles. Blackburn landed on Newfoundland’s shore with his crewmate’s body. A family found Blackburn and during the long winter nursed him back to health.

In Gloucester he had been given up for lost, but when Blackburn returned—without most of his toes and fingers—he was a hero. He ran a saloon for much of his life, but also made tremendous solo voyages: rowing along the coast of Florida and sailing twice across
the Atlantic: to England in 1899, and three years later in a recordsetting 39 days to Lisbon. Blackburn is buried in the Beechbrook Cemetery in West Gloucester.

Blackburn’s boat, the Great Republic, and the wooden bar from his saloon are displayed at the Cape Ann Museum. Gloucester hosts the International Dory races with Lunenburg, Canada, as well as the Blackburn Challenge, a 20+ mile open water circumnavigation of Cape Ann.