Dodge Morgan, the sailor from Maine who became the first American to complete a solo, nonstop sail around the globe, died of cancer Tuesday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was 78.
Morgan, a larger-than-life figure who also was an entrepreneur and a newspaper publisher, was best known for the feat he completed on April 11, 1986, as he sailed the 60-foot American Promise into St. George’s, Bermuda.
The journey — which took 150 days, 1 hour and 6 minutes — shattered the previous record for solo circumnavigations of the globe. Morgan made his trip in just over half the time of the previous record: 292 days, by Chay Blyth of England in 1971.
Making such a voyage was a long-term goal for Morgan, who lived most recently on Snow Island in Harpswell with his fiancee, Mary Beth Teas. As a younger man, he had promised himself he would sail around the world after he turned 30. His pursuit became more concrete later, when, as a self-made millionaire living in Cape Elizabeth, he had his cutter built.
Born in Malden, Mass., Morgan was first exposed to sailing as a young man working in an uncle’s boatyard on Cape Cod. He wasn’t allowed to sail the boats, so he saved up his money to rent one.
Morgan was the kind of sailing buddy who could be counted on during a storm, said Merle Hallett of Falmouth. The friends sailed many miles together, including a couple of dozen trips between Maine and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
“He was a hell of a seaman and a great shipmate and we enjoyed each other for all those years,” Hallett said.
Although Morgan was famous for his around-the-world sail, which he chronicled in his book “The Voyage of American Promise,” he didn’t consider it his biggest accomplishment.
In an interview in 2005, Morgan said he was proudest of his two children — Hoyt Morgan of New York City and Kimberly Morgan of San Diego — and of the open culture of his company, Controlonics, a maker of radar detectors.
“I think people expect me to say the voyage in the ‘American Promise.’ That was just one more quest and it was somehow very notable,” Morgan said. “Being notable doesn’t make it that special.”
Morgan said his time as an Air Force fighter pilot was the period when he grew up. After completing his service, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. He worked as a newspaper reporter in Alaska before starting his own public relations firm there. He earned enough money to buy a boat and sail for more than two years.
Bob McCray, who owned New Hampshire-based Worcester Controls, remembers interviewing Morgan for a position as marketing manager — especially the part when the job applicant described his goal of sailing around the world alone. That objective, to McCray, demonstrated good planning and determination.
“I felt he had a talent that was unique. He was an innovator par excellence. I just wanted that talent in the company,” said McCray, who now serves on the board of a company, VXI Corp., that Morgan started.
Morgan established Controlonics in the early 1970s by buying a portion of Worcester Controls that became the manufacturer of one of the first popular radar detectors. He built the company up from three people working in a garage to an operation with 355 employees.
Morgan was well-known in Maine for owning two alternative newspapers: the Maine Times and the Casco Bay Weekly in Portland, which he bought in 1985 and 1990, respectively. He sold the Maine Times to investors in 1997. Casco Bay Weekly stopped publishing under Morgan’s ownership in 2002.
Morgan continued to work in journalism, writing a column for the boating magazine Points East. Editor Nim Marsh said that despite his gruff exterior and strong opinions, Morgan was a gentle and thoughtful soul — a characterization that he said Morgan would have killed him over had he heard it.
Marsh recalled receiving terse but encouraging messages from Morgan when he most needed them, all the more meaningful coming from such a hard-driven and accomplished man.
“He was a man who really knew how to love life, no matter what,” Marsh said. “No matter what his circumstances, he was going to enjoy it.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: