Roy Bergo attempts to pilot a bathtub from Edmonds to Alaska on October 26, 1954.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 11/09/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7126
On October 26, 1954, Roy Bergo pilots a child's bathtub equipped with an outboard motor in an attempt to travel 1,200 miles from Edmonds, Washington, to Alaska. He returns the next day, having made it as far as Whidbey Island.

Rub-a-Dub-Dub

The 50-year-old adventurer had quit his guard's job at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe earlier that year, and planned his voyage to publicize the International Canoe Racing Association, which he founded. During construction of his unique vessel, Bergo reduced his weight to 144 pounds, because the baby bathtub -- measuring 18 x 36 inches and 11 inches deep -- could not accommodate his 178-pound frame.

He attached two stovepipes to the washtub, outrigger-style, to act as pontoons. The craft was powered by a 2-horsepower outboard motor. Besides Bergo, the tub was stuffed with a seat cushion, a jug of extra gas, a tarp, a rain jacket, an oar, and other items essential for ocean travel. His plan was to gas up wherever he camped ashore each evening. He wouldn't state how much money he was carrying, but said he had plenty of sandwiches and candy bars to eat.

The High Seas Await

Intentionally missing from his inventory of goods were maps, charts, and navigational instruments. "I will rely on my own judgment," he stated. "I have the utmost confidence in my own ability and judgment." Bergo expected his trip to take 25 days, and he hoped to acquire a sponsor by the time he reached Port Angeles.

More than 100 spectators gathered at Jim's Boathouse in Edmonds to bid him bon voyage. Newspaper reporters, along with television and newsreel camera operators, were there too. Bergo's wife and daughter were also in attendance, as were Coast Guard officials. Bergo was not to sail alone. Coast Guard officials planned to follow him as far as he went, and were ready to issue him a ticket for reckless operation if his craft floundered or sank.

Dressed in a wool cap, sweatshirt, and blue jeans, the intrepid navigator made a few statements to the press. He kissed his wife and daughter and then climbed into the craft. Out on the water, he lit up a smoke, waved goodbye, and away he went.

Journey's End

By nightfall he had traveled 12 miles to Double Bluff, Whidbey Island -- just past Useless Bay -- and decided to camp for the evening. He set out the next morning, but after 15 minutes into the second leg of his trip, his motor conked out. Bergo tinkered with it, but could not repair it.

His glorious adventure over almost before it had began, Bergo signaled the Coast Guard for help. The perturbed guardsmen took him aboard, gave him passage back to his camp at Double Bluff, dropped him off, and informed him that he'd have to make his way back to Edmonds on his own.

Leaving his one-of-a-kind craft on the shores of Double Bluff, he began the long walk back home. As one observer later stated, "The poor guy. Bergo didn't even bring back the ring from his tub."


Sources: "Man Sails for Alaska in Bathtub," The Seattle Times, October 26, 1954, p. 1; "Washtub Odyssey to Alaska Starts," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 27, 1954; "Bathtub Cruise Ends 12 Miles From Start," The Seattle Times, October 27, 1954; "Fickle Motor Ends Tub Cruise," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 28, 1954; "Tub Sputters, Bergo Returns," Edmonds Tribune-Review, October 28, 1954.

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