At Sea with Willie V., 1931

Eighty-five years ago, William K. Vanderbilt II weighed anchor in Northport Bay, Long Island, to begin an epic circumnavigation of the earth in the Alva, his custom-built, 264-foot yacht.

Willie, as he was called, turned his extensive journals into a privately published book, West Made East with the Loss of a Day, which chronicled the eight-month journey of 28,145 miles.

William K. Vanderbilt II and his daughter Consuelo, aboard the Alva, 1931 Vanderbilt Museum archives
William K. Vanderbilt II and his daughter Consuelo, aboard the Alva, 1931
Vanderbilt Museum archives

This week, in 1931, Mr. Vanderbilt, his wife, daughter, and friends were headed to Australia.

Journal excerpts:

September 23, 1931: “Beautiful day. Sea smooth. Visibility fine. Water 73°, air 74°. Since leaving Northport we have logged 11,041 miles.”

September 24, 1931, off Cape Moreton, Australia.  Willie Vanderbilt, surprised by what seems to be a shoal not noted on his charts, and less than three ship’s lengths ahead, wrote:

“Bang! The sea opened up, and the largest whale I have ever seen broke water, jumping thirty feet into the air. It landed with a fearful noise. If the Woolworth Tower had toppled over into the North River, it would not make a greater splash. Imagine my relief at seeing that shoal come to life! That whale was over ninety feet in length and leaped clear out of the water several times before sounding. It was thrilling to watch him.”

Later that day:

“We stopped at the quarantine station. The crew was mustered. All were passed. We were a healthy lot…A mob of reporters interviewed and photographed us. We posed and talked for the Fox Movietone. We were asked to stand, sit, walk and talk. Mr. Gilks, master of our own movies, looked on with envy. I wondered what he would think up for the rest of the trip.

“Mail was pouring in, telegrams were arriving. People requested me to speak about this and that, subjects with which I was not conversant.  What did I think of Australia? Would I say something about the unemployed? Did I care to express my opinion on the financial debacle? What did the yacht cost? Did Mrs. Vanderbilt get seasick? Why did we come here anyway?”

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