1969 : East Lansing Resident Crosses Lake Michigan in Bathtub

August 24, 2022 all-day

On August 24 1969, Victor Jackson, of East Lansing, landed near Manitowac, Wisconsin, after completing a 14 and-a-half hour trip across Lake Michigan in a bathtub. The 32-year-old father of six made the 65-mile journey in a household-type tub welded to a frame supported by four 30 gallon oil drums and powered by a 20-horsepower outboard motor.

The rest of the story:

Jackson’s first effort, July 5, 1969 ended in a close call. He had to be rescued by the Coast Guard as small waves suddenly grew to big ones.

“Lake Michigan had turned into a raging fury of six-foot waves enveloping me in their deep green broiling water,” he wrote in his book.

His pleas for help over a radio could only be heard as his tub rode the crest of a wave.

The Coast Guard did rescue him, six and a half miles off shore, and towed his tub back to Ludington. The guardsmen, he said, thought it was hilarious.

“The newspapers had a field day at the expense of my ego,” he wrote.

The Detroit Free Press headline was “Bathtub Mariner is All Washed Up.”

Even nationally syndicated radio host Paul Harvey got a ding in.

Jackson said it was a low point. He was depressed. He endured a lot of razzing about his failed trip.

His father encouraged him to quit. His wife dubbed him “goofy” in a news article.

One person, though, gave him a glimmer of hope. It was a Ludington car ferry captain who examined the boat and told him he could do it if he waited for calmer weather in late summer.

He tried again Aug. 24, 1969, leaving from Ludington early around 6:30 a.m., hoping to arrive in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 10 hours.

As the mayor of Manitowoc and a group of well-wishers waited on shore, hours passed with no sign of Jackson. Jackson’s father, who had made the crossing from Ludington on a ferry, kept his pledge to call the Coast Guard if he didn’t make it by 5 p.m.

Out on the water, Jackson had drifted off course then corrected with the help of a compass and map, adding miles to his journey. His radio batteries were dying, and he turned off communication. He knew he was running out of gas.

As darkness fell he thought he could see a blinking light on the horizon. It turned out to be a grain elevator in Manitowoc.

As he motored slowly toward shore, he realized he was in complete darkness without lights and at risk for being hit by other boats.

But he made it around 9 p.m., Jackson said he had one pint of gas left out of the 30 gallons he took to make the crossing.

The crossing took him more than 14 hours. He estimates he went 100 miles.

“It was a real squeaker,” he said.

His story was carried worldwide. He later became a guest on Garry Moore’s show “To Tell the Truth,” stumping the panel about his adventure.

50 years later, the MSU electrical engineering graduate and now Okemos resident has written a book about the experience called “Crossing Lake Michigan in a Bathtub.”

Sources :

Mich-Again’s Day

“Man Sails Bathtub 65 Miles”, Newburgh, N.Y. Evening News, August 25, 1969.

Bathtub-Boat Spurts Across Lake“, Desert Sun, Number 19, 26 August 1969.

Judy Putnam, “Okemos man recounts bath-tub trip across Lake Michigan in new book“, Detroit News, August 4, 2019.

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