Search by the Yankee

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The Yankee was "a North Sea pilot ship and schooner rigged" owned and skippered by Irving Johnson, who was quite renowned in the yachting community. The Amelia Earhart Foundation apparently funded the trip to search the Gilberts for traces of Earhart and Noonan.

WPHC Archives

The WPHC had an entire file on the Yankee. Permission was requested, and granted, to visit the Gilberts for the purpose of searching for Amelia Earhart. On September 14, 1940, Jack Barley, the Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony reported to his boss Sir Harry Luke, the High Commissioner, with the dates that the Yankee had visited various islands within the colony. There is no mention of the yacht calling at any island of the Phoenix Group. According to Barley, the ship's complement was 19 and all were U.S. citizens. Barley concludes his report with this paragraph:

"All my sources of information state that the activities of the party appeared to be only those of ordinary tourists -- bathing, sightseeing and fishing. Mention of Mrs. Putnam was made on one or two occasions, but the 'search' was purely incidental to the voyage. Personally I incline to view that the question of Mrs. Putnam's disappearance was linked to the Yankee's voyage very largely in order to ensure publicity for Captain Johnson who, as Your Excellency will be aware, runs these voyages on a profit-making basis."

The captain took part of the HMS Bounty's rudder and was thought to have illegally collected other artifacts from natives (WPHC Archives). "Adm. Black, according to J. Gordon Vaeth, ended up with a piece of the HMS Bounty rudder which I think came from the Yankee voyage. Displayed it at his Potomac home" (Ron Bright, June 24, 2004, Forum).

7 July 1941: The rudder of the HMS Bounty was located on Pitcairn and was shipped to Suva. Now in the Fiji Museum?

The Captain's Account

From Finding Amelia DVD. Collected and transcribed by Randy Jacobson.


Yankee Cruises, Inc.

Yacht Yankee
Now on Third Cruise
Around the World
Returns April 27, 1941

Permanent Address
Johnson's Bookstore
1379 Main Street
Springfield, Mass.

June 4, 1940

Miss Bessie M. Young
2257 Kalia Road
P.O. Box 2630
Honolulu, Hawaii.

Dear Miss Young:

We are approaching the last island on our visit to the Ellice and Gilbert Group. We have spend over four weeks sailing from island to island and have learned much that, had we known before, would have made unnecessary this search for Miss Earhart.

The sailing in these groups is very interesting, but somewhat dangerous, although we grounded but once. The charts are very inaccurate and the islands so low that they are hard to see at night. The first island in the Ellice Group was Nukulaelae. We learned that in 1928 an 8000-ton steamer ran on the island at night because strong currents had set her off her course.

From there we went to Funafuti and from there to Veitupu [Vaitupu]. Here we learned from the Acting Administrator much about the Ellice Islands and learned that he as well as his predecessor at least once a year visited every island in the group, all of which are inhabited. None of the natives had seen an airplane except for those at Funafuti when H.M.S. Achilles brought one there a year ago.

After sailing close by another Ellice Island called Niutao, we went on to the first of the Gilberts, Arorai. The natives were quite pleasant and we traded tobacco for hats, sharks' teeth swords, baskets and so forth. From there we went on to Nukamau [Nukunau, Nikunau] and then to Beru. We were surprised to find over 2,000 natives on each of these islands and to learn in Beru from a missionary that the other Gilbert Islands were similarly populous. This missionary ran a school and had quite an establishment on Beru, drawing natives from all the other Islands in the Group. Usually he would visit the islands himself to pick them out, and having been many years in the group, he had first hand knowledge of nearly everything that went on. They have radio there and when Miss Earhart was lost, he attempted to find out from the thousands of natives in the London Missionary Society's control whether any airplane had been seen at the time. He said that in certain cases, it was hard to tell whether some ignorant native had actually seen an airplane or wished he had, but that it was believed that the Earhart plane had flown eastward high up over the island of Taputeouea. He said that not a particle of a wrecked plane or any wreckage that could possibly be from airplane had been found on any of the islands although the natives often walk along the reefs to see what they can pick up in the way of drift, especially as their islands are so heavily populated that anything they can get is useful.

This did not stop us from going all through the islands, however, and we went on to Anatoa [Onatoa]; then to Taputeouea. It was there that we sailed in the world's largest outrigger canoe, some 96 feet long with three masts and a colossal outrigger of some 40 feet. The widest part of the canoe itself is 5 1/2 feet. Next we sighted Nonati [Nonouti], also Oneaka [?], and Kuriae [Kuria], and at Arenuka [Aranuka] we took underwater pictures of beautiful coral and fish, and one of the native brought up a huge sea clam about 2 1/2 feet long. From there we sailed to Apamama [Abemama, Apamama] where Robert Louis Stevenson once spent several months. Then we skirted Maiena [Maiana] and anchored at Tarawa, the headquarters of the District Officer of the whole group. He has also been to all the islands at least every six months and had been especially on the lookout at the time Miss Earhart was lost.

It was here that we net old Captain I. R. Hendley who, at the request of Mr. Putnam, set out in a small cutter to search an area of the ocean where the natives believed there was an island. There was not good basis for this belief except the natives said their dead went to this island, but that it couldn't be seen by human eyes. We learned that boats had been sailing this area for over 100 years and it is therefore considered impossible that any island should exist unknown at this time in an area that has been frequented so much. We believe we are the fourth yacht ever to have visited these waters and the first yacht to visit many islands we have mentioned. The only other American yacht to visit Tawawa [Tarawa] was Vincent Astor's "Nourmahal" which came down a year or so ago.

We found written evidence that the U. S. Coast Guard cutter "Itasca" had stopped at some of the islands during the search for Miss Earhart.

We are now approaching Ocean Island which is the headquarters for both groups and there we shall send this mail. I am extremely sorry to report that the search has been entirely unsuccessful except to prove without a shadow of a doubt that Miss Earhart's plane did not come down on any of the islands of the Ellice or Gilbert Group or that any of the wreckage drifted to the islands.

On the way down from Honolulu we also searched in the Phoenix Group, but did not call at several inhabited islands including Hull. Three years ago these islands were not inhabited, but since then they have had a very bad drought in the southern Gilbert Islands and over 1000 of the natives have been transported to the Phoenix Group in order to relieve the food situation. This means that several government officers as well as these hundreds of natives have been in the Phoenix Group. This also means that schooners have crisscrossed many times between the Gilbert Islands and the Phoenix Islands within the last two years.

It is my opinion and that of all those with whom I have talked in this area that the search be considered finished and that everything that is humanly possible had been done to find any trace of Miss Earhart.

Sincerely yours,

IMJ/ESJ Irving Johnson

Tabituea Report

"The only new information that Johnson uncovered was that the populace on Tabitueaa, in the Gilbert group, had heard an airplane fly overhead during the night of 2 July 1937" (Art Carty to EPAC).