Dodge Morgan, the first American to sail solo around the globe without stopping, has died of cancer. He was 78.
Morgan, who died Tuesday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, turned his small marine radar company into the successful Whistler brand of detectors before sailing around the world. Hobbs Funeral Home in Portland is handling the arrangements and confirmed the death. He set a record in 1986 when he completed the solo sail in his 60-foot American Promise in 150 days, 1 hour and 6 minutes, beating the previous record holder, British sailor Chay Blyth, who took 292 days to accomplish the same feat in 1971.
Ted Hood, who designed Morgan’s boat, said the American Promise was a rugged sailboat with two of everything, including a spare generator and a spare rudder, and was designed for sturdiness, not speed. “Everyone said there’s no way that boat is going to get around the world in record speed, but it did,” Hood, a 1974 America’s Cup winner, said Friday from his office in Portsmouth, R.I.
Before inspiring a new generation of sailors, Morgan drew his own sailing inspiration as a boy working at his uncle’s boat yard. The Malden, Mass., native later became part of the sailing scene in Marblehead, Mass., where Hood remembered him as both a free spirit and a driven sailor. By the time Morgan fulfilled his dream of sailing around the world, he had served in the Air Force, gone to Boston University and become a successful businessman. He made a fortune by building a small company that started in a two-car garage with a handful of employees into what became Controlonics, a radar detector company.
The Massachusetts-based company later changed its name to Whistler, named for the whistling sound made by its earlier marine radar systems, said John Nolan, who went to work for Morgan in 1979 and now serves as project manager for Whistler Group in Bentonville, Ark. Morgan didn’t mind taking risks and maintained an open-door policy. “If you had anything you wanted to say to him, you just walked in his office,” Nolan said. Morgan eventually brought his love of sailing to Maine, where he lived in Cape Elizabeth and then on Snow Island in Harpswell, where he spent his later years.
Morgan, who held a journalism degree from Boston University, bought the influential alternative weekly newspaper the Maine Times in 1985. He later sold it. He also owned the Casco Bay Weekly. All the while, he continued to sail. He regularly coasted to the Caribbean in a 52-foot sailboat, often making the trip solo, Hood said.