Liz May, the curator of Farnham Museum, launched an exhibition to honor the memory of David Johnstone and John Hoare on the 50th anniversary of their courageous try to cross the Atlantic in a boat called the Puffin. It was the first attempt of the 20th century to row across the Atlantic. Last time the men were seen alive was on the 11th of August 1966. As an adventurous person and a reporter at local newspaper David Johnstone was always looking for a next thing that would interest him. During one of the interviews he said: “If we don’t have a go, we shall live the rest of our lives wondering if we might have made it – and knowing that only fear persuaded us from the attempt”.
“Most of the locals haven’t heard about that story before the exhibition,” said Liz mentioning that a big group of people knew about the successful journey of John Ridgeway and Chay Blyth. Their attempt to row the Atlantic ended with a success. There is a road, school and a bakery in Farnham named after John Ridgeway. Chay Blythe after that journey made a career out of traveling and exploring. As most of the local people knew about Ridgeway and Blythe there was no interest in the tragic history of the Puffin. “It was a story that deserved to be told,” said Liz May “A great story doesn’t have to end with success. What is courageous is that they didn’t give up.” The curator of Farnham Museum finds this story particularly interesting as the men were given plenty of opportunities to stop their journey. From the rescued journal of their travel can be seen that they knew they were probably going to die, that they were not going to succeed, but kept going.
Everything that is placed in the exhibition was donated to the Farnham Museum by David Johnstone’s mother in 1968. The boat itself was found in October 1966. A bottle with pills, a net, a food can, clothes, shoes, a map and technical equipment. Every item that was found on the wreck can be seen on the exhibition, apart from journey journal, which contains 149 hand-written pages. It is in Farnham Museum, but it is too fragile to be put into the exhibition. The last record was written on 3rd of September, just before the hurricane struck the area. The journal was an inspiration for Merton Naydler, Johnstone’s family friend, to write a book about the tragic history of the Puffin.
Apart from that exhibition, there is no memorial in Farnham, which celebrates the memory of Johnstone and Hoare, two men born in this city who tried to row the Atlantic. Until the 24th of December visitors can get to know the story of the Puffin visiting the Farnham Museum. It is opened for visitors from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm, free entry.
In the end, the Puffin did cross the Atlantic. A British ocean rower, Graham Walters, set off in 2006 to give the historical boat another chance to row the Atlantic. This time the attempt ended with success. Now the Puffin is a part of the exhibition at the Exter Maritime Museum.