We have to start in years between the two World Wars, in Poland, which, after long partitions, just appeared as an independent state in 1918. There was a young (19 years old) Polish Boy Scout, sailor – and adventurer, who left brand new Gdynia harbour on a wooden boat without an engine and after voyage lasting seven years became the first Polish man to circumnavigate the world under sails. In those years that was a rare event and Frenchman Alain Gerbault who did the same a little earlier is well known almost everywhere.
Our man, Wladyslaw Wagner (alias Wladek), closed the loop on board of already third consecutive built by himself boat called ZJAWA, after the voyage which was difficult, arduous, interesting, made with various crew members – and successful. He proudly presented Polish Flag around the world, in most places for the first time and considered it his patriotic duty. He crossed his wake again near Portugal in the summer of 1939. Alas, because of German invasion he was detained in Great Britain on 3rd September and could not reach his home port in Poland. His big personal achievement and recognition, gained already then, quite naturally faded into insignificance during long years of WWII.
Neither he was recalled and appreciated after the war. Because of fatal geopolitical decisions made for Poland in Yalta, Wagner decided not return to home land and that was his clear political statement. So, outside of the close but small sailing community, he became a non-person and not worth a mention in his native country. Second Polish independence in 1989 come too late for him and did not change much in national memory. Half of the century was already gone with the winds of history and his personal oblivion was consolidated. By then he was an old and ill man and quite a short time later he returned to Poland, but in cinerary urn – discreetly, almost anonymously and without any public attention.
And here comes the intervention of our Hermandad de la Costa – Polonia. Quite a few of our Brothers did manage to made personal contacts with Wladek Wagner before he died in Florida. They did learn a lot about his life abroad. With his British wife and family he spent many pioneering years on British Virgin Islands. He built there first houses, first dockyard and first airstrip. He is still remembered there. The place is Trellis Bay in Beef Island – a beautiful anchorage well known to international yachtsmen.
During one of Polish Zafarranchos Brother Andrzej W.Piotrowski (#69) aired the idea of placing a memorial there. Nowadays Polish sailors visit Caribbean quite often but know nothing about the connection with our great sailor They hardly even know who he was and what he has done. That should be remedied!
It took few years of gestation but the year 2012 offered a perfect opportunity. It marks exactly 100 years since birth, 80 years since start of circumnavigation and 20 years since death of Wladek. And on 21-22 January 2012 idea come to the fruition. Preparations lasted full year but result was spectacular. Over forty three yachts with Polish yachtsmen, coming from many countries and directions, moored in Trellis Bay for Wagner Sailing Rally 2012. Sail training vessel brig FRYDERYK CHOPIN and four other vessels come especially from Poland. Commemorative plaque was unveiled on the Bellamy Cay islet in the middle of Trellis Bay, flags were raised and national anthems played, speeches delivered (including a reading of a very touching personal message from Wladek’s wife Mabel).
For more curious some written and visual reports of WSR 2012 in English are available on the internet:
Brothers of the Coast played significant and leading role in the Organizer’s Committee. They received instant understanding and strong support from many communities of Polish sailors living and sailing abroad. Almost 300 participants coming from far away places were emotionally satisfied. They expressed thanks for creating that opportunity to remind Wladek Wagner, to show regard to him and also to integrate Polish yachtsmen in the process.
Caribbean gathering was but a first event opening the 2012 WAGNER’S YEAR. The rest of them shall be happening in Poland. Another important one is planned for 8th of July in Gdynia., Poland – the day and place of start to his youthful adventure. There will be yachts arriving from Great Yarmouth – in a symbolic last leg completing Wagner’s aborted homecoming. There will be another plaque unveiling and more.
Then, at the end of 2012, after all publications and various media reports, hopefully the name of Wladek Wagner will cease to be an empty sound in Polish national consciousness. His merits will be acknowledged and historical justice delivered – at long last.
Jerzy Knabe #2
VI BoC Polonia
Commodore of Wagner Sailing Rally 2012.