By Brad Dison
45-year-old A.R. “Pat” Patterson was a successful businessman from Fairfax, Virginia. In his spare time, he and Findall Marbury, a naval architect and friend, designed a small motorboat. As the design process neared completion, they hatched a plan. They wanted to build the boat and take it on a 1,000-mile trip from Washington D.C. to Jacksonville, Florida. For two weeks, they shaped ¼ inch boards and glued them to a light wooden frame. They used a special glue to seal the boards together to prevent leaks. They installed a lightweight awning to protect them from the sun’s rays. When the boat was finished, it was 15 feet in length, and weighed 150 pounds. Pat, alone, weighed 160 pounds. They mounted a used 10-horsepower outboard motor to the boat and made arrangements for the 1,000-mile maiden voyage. Pat’s total investment in the boat was about $35. Just before they were to begin their trip, Marbury was transferred away from the Washington D.C. area. Pat’s 10-year-old son, Tommy, begged to take Marbury’s place, but Pat decided to make the trip alone.
On Wednesday, June 22, 1960, Pat loaded the boat with a pump, some extra glue and cotton wadding, a folding chair, and began his journey. He set off near the Francis Scott Key Bridge on the Potomac River in Washington D.C. at full speed. Pat’s route would take him down the Potomac River, through Chesapeake Bay, and through various inland waterways which allowed him to stay in sight of land most of the way. He expected the trip to take about three weeks.
On Thursday, June 30, eight days after he began his trip, Pat reached Hampton, Virginia. The trip was taking longer than he had expected. On several occasions, Pat’s boat struck objects in the water and sprung leaks. “I started out full speed and with not too much caution,” Pat said, “but when I hit a stake in the Chesapeake Bay—well, I was careful from then on. The hull split like an innertube.” Pat patched the leaks with glue and wadding, sometimes without ever taking the boat to shore, and continued on his journey. He usually spent about 12 hours on the water before making port. At one port, a reporter asked him how he dealt with the loneliness. Pat responded that he was too busy to become lonely.
Pat’s closest call on his journey did not come from leaks or fear of sinking, but from something he had not anticipated. Pat reached Fernandina Beach, Florida, just a few miles from his journey’s end at Jacksonville, and pulled his boat out of the water. He left his 10-horsepower “kicker” on the boat. Just a few feet away was another boat in the water. Some convicts had escaped and made their way to Fernandina Beach in search of a boat to steal. They looked at Pat’s beached boat and motor and looked at the one in the water. They quickly decided to take the one in the water to save time. They paddled away and left Pat’s boat on the beach.
On Thursday, August 11, 1960, Pat finally made it to Jacksonville, Florida. The trip he thought would take him three weeks took him 50 days. Part of the time was spent fixing leaks. Much of his time on shore dealt with newspaper reporters and curiosity seekers. When Pat beached the boat in Jacksonville, a reporter asked him if he was planning to return in the boat. Pat replied that he planned to return home after a few days’ rest, but not by boat. He made it clear that he had no plans for another boat trip anytime soon.
Pat became somewhat of a celebrity because of his journey. On February 15, 1961, Pat was a guest on I’ve Got a Secret. In this show’s format, guests shared a secret with the show’s host Gary Moore. A four-person panel had a limited time to ask the guests questions to try to uncover their secret. What was Pat’s secret? The ¼ inch boards used in the construction of his boat were waterproof …cardboard. Pat made the trip in his cardboard boat as part of a promotion for his company to prove that the cardboard boxes his company produced were truly waterproof.
- The Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina) June 23, 1960, p.10.
- The Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), June 23, 1960, p.8.
- The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia), June 23, 1960, p.8.
- Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia) July 1, 1960, p.3.
- The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Florida), August 12, 1960, p.3.
- The Pensacola News (Pensacola, Florida) August 12, 1960, p.2.
- “I’ve Got a Secret,” Airdate February 15, 1961.]