A Honeymoon to Remember–Unfortunately

Among the many yachting adventures of the twentieth century is that of Albert Younglove Gowen and his wife, Jeanne Bouchet Gowen, who left New York on August 21, 1921, and motored their yacht, Speejacks, around the world. Here is their story:

A.Y.Gowen graduated from Harvard in 1907 and began his career in a stone quarry. After three years he went to work for Lehigh Cement Company, where he eventually became Vice President, and Commodore of the Cleveland Yacht Club. Along the way he amassed a considerable fortune including a large portfolio of stock in the Standard Oil Company.

In 1919, Gowen’s doctor advised him that he had “worked himself to death” and had less than three years to live. “Your only hope is to take a year off from business and learn to relax,” the physician warned. It was all the temptation A.Y. needed to fulfill his lifelong dream of cruising around the world, and he ordered a specially-built boat from the Consolidated Shipbuilding Corporation of New York. The result was a 98-foot motor yacht christened with the nickname A.Y. had been given at Harvard: Speejacks.


A.Y. was not a sailor. His vessel of choice was powered by two 250 horsepower Winton gasoline engines, which consumed about 2 gallons a mile at cruising speed of 8 knots, although she had a top speed of 14 knots. Her fuel capacity was 5,000 gallons and he arranged for fuel dumps at strategic points around the world.

Along with his new boat, A.Y. acquired a second wife: a much younger Jeanne Bouchet, whom the press of the day described as “a charming and outgoing Texas beauty.” The two would turn A.Y.’s dream of circumnavigating the world into their honeymoon trip.

The voyage resulted in a book, Sea Tracks of the Speejacks, published in 1923 and written by Dale Collins, an author who was one of the passengers, with an introduction by Jeanne Bouchet Gowen. According to Mrs. Gowen, the passage from Colon, Panama to Tahiti was the worst. Here is the story as written by her:


“We carried only 3,000 gallons of gasoline. The distance from Panama to Tahiti is 4,500 miles and as there are no gasoline filling stations in the Pacific, it was necessary for us to be towed to within a few hundred miles of Tahiti.”

“While we were at our anchorage, a harness was put about the Speejacks, to which a tow rope was attached. It was the most enormous rope, I believe, ever braided!” To this harness was attached the tow rope, passed aboard the steamer Eastern Queen which was to tow us.” * * 

Turning to my diary for September 30, I find this:

Heavens what a day! We stopped for an hour and a half. It was a wise precaution because we had bounced all day. We have a new movement now, but it is far too jerky for a symphony: 1-2-3– jerk-1-2-3-jerk. Everyone on board looks questioningly at another to see what the reaction to the jerk might be.”


A more objective version of the Pacific leg of the Speejacks journey can be found in the book The Circumnavigators by Don Holm:

“The . . . tow was a nightmare from the start. Everyone was seasick almost continuously, and no one became accustomed to the awful motion. Cooking was virtually impossible. Meals became mere snacks grabbed with one hand while hanging on with the other, eaten merely to keep alive. At one point during some rough weather, the Eastern Queen sent over a crew to adjust the rope cradle. They were overcome by seasickness and the Speejacks crew had to finish the Job.”

After dozens of adventures in the South Seas and beyond, the Gowen’s eventually completed their 16-month “honeymoon voyage” of a lifetime. They returned home safe and sound with their boat and crew intact. But a sad and perhaps inevitable footnote to their story can be found in the San Bernadino Daily Sun of February 13, 1930, which reports that while the “wedding trip” had cost the groom an estimated $1,000,000, the marriage “ended rather abruptly in the divorce courts.”


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