Freshmen photo in The Gul, 1954, showing Leo Gilson (back row, 2nd from r.).

Freshmen photo in The Gul, 1954, showing Leo Gilson (back row, 2nd from r.).

An EphBlog reader shared the passing of Marblehead resident Leo Gilson, who graduated Williams College in 1957:

Raised in Pittsfield, MA, Leo graduated from Pittsfield High School where he was class president and an accomplished athlete. He attended Deerfield Academy and graduated from Williams College in 1957. Leo’s career began with General Electric. He later worked for International Rectifier before starting his own company, Nova Sales Distribution, a semiconductor business. Traveling the world extensively, Leo loved regaling friends and family with his grand adventure stories, one of which was being shipwrecked around the Fiji Islands.

Our reader shares more details:

He graduated Williams a few years before I did, but we had friends in common who endlessly enjoyed recounting the “shipwreck” story…

He connected with this California dentist who wanted to win a yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, and bought a fancy and fast boat in which to do it. From Honolulu, they proceeded on a round-the-world voyage in with two others, a Brit and a German, I believe. Only they didn’t get very far. In Fiji, they ran aground on a coral reef and ripped a huge hole in the hull. As the engine room flooded with water, they put out a “Mayday” alert, bringing the Royal Navy and a seaplane from New Zealand to the rescue. The British took them to shore and salvaged the yacht, towing it into harbor so it could be repaired. Meanwhile, they were all stranded in Fiji, which may have been the whole idea. So they were having a fine time of it. Sun, sand, surf, island attractions. And then the dentist went fishing one day and was attacked by a shark. They never found the body.

The yacht was named the Fjord III, Gilson’s South Seas adventure earned him contemporaneous news coverage, including in the North Adams Transcript. As he recounted in an interview that ran on December 6, 1963:

It was after 11 on Thursday night and I was forward keeping lookout when I suddenly saw waves breaking on the reef. I yelled to the others and dropped the mainsail, but it was too late. We hit the reef. High and Dry. The Fjord was being battered by heavy waves, and we thought we were lost. But the tide went down and left us high and dry. The Fjord was firmly wedged and we couldn’t move her.

Gilson and the others were rescued by the frigate HMS Cook, which, interestingly, had just returned to sea two weeks earlier after months of repairs required from running aground on the same reef. The crew of the Cook earned a salvage award for the rescue: £46 for the captain, with lesser shares for the crew.

Remarkably, the Fjord III is still afloat and being raced today, having undergone an eight month restoration in Uruguay in 2013.

Fjord III, racing in 2014.  Photo via Claudio Cambria at

Fjord III, racing in 2014. Photo via Claudio Cambria at

The EphBlog community extends its sympathies to Gilson’s family and friends. Rest well, dear Eph.

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