A Final Passage to “Cloud Nine”

Roger Swanson, the self-described “pig farmer” from Minnesota who became one of the world’s most accomplished long-distance voyagers, passed away on Christmas Day after a tough bout with cancer. He was 81.

Roger Swanson

Roger Swanson at the helm in the Beagle Channel in 1991.David Thoreson

Swanson—an inductee in Cruising World's Hall of Fame, and the winner of both the Cruising Club of America's Blue Water Medal, and the Royal Cruising Club's Tilman Medal—recorded three circumnavigations and over 217,000 nautical miles aboard his Bowman 57, _Cloud Nine_. In 2007, he became the first skipper of an American sailboat to negotiate the storied Northwest Passage. His travels took him from above the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, and seemingly everywhere in between.

In an obituary in Minnesota's StarTribune newspaper, Swanson was described as "an unlikely global adventurer. He grew up in St. Paul and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1953 with a degree in electrical engineering. He later served three years in the Navy aboard the destroyer USS Henley. He then moved to the family farm outside Dunnell, Minnesota, that was settled years before by his Swedish ancestors. It became his lifelong home."

Swanson actually carved out a very successful career in manufacturing in his home state. Eventually he began sailing on small lakes in southern Minnesota and chartering in the Caribbean.

As humble as he was peripatetic, Swanson began his long-distance voyaging career in 1982 with his two sons, Steven and Philip. Along with a rotating group of friends, they set out from Miami and spent the next 28 months circling the globe, eventually visiting nearly 200 ports in fifty countries. For many sailors, that would’ve been the culmination of a dream. But Swanson was just getting started.

It took him three tries to conquer the Northwest Passage. Twice he sailed to Antarctica. But the sailing was also a means to an end. Wherever he landed, during two more spins around the planet, Swanson immersed himself in local cultures. And he continued to sail with a long list of friends and associates who became cherished members of Cloud Nine's crew. When he retired from sailing a few years ago, over 300 sailors had gone to sea with Roger Swanson.

Of all the legacies left behind by a great sailor, that one may be the most impressive.