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Revisiting the 1927 Schooner ‘Northern Light’

As we approach the last days of January, we often find ourselves musing over the past decade or two. This usually leads us to revisit past issues of Latitude 38, just for a glimpse of what was going on “back then.” This time we landed on page 118 of the January 2004 issue, where a photo of a large-looking boat caught our attention. We looked to the start of the story and discovered that she was indeed large — 140-ft long, launched at Stone Boat Yard in Alameda in 1927. Her name was Northern Light, and at that time, we reported she was the “largest schooner ever built on the West Coast — and possibly the largest sailing yacht, period.”

Northern Light was the creation of John Borden, a millionaire who owned Chicago’s Yellow Cab Company. He wanted a boat for an Arctic cruise to gather specimens for Chicago’s Field Museum. Borden contacted Lester (son of Stone Boat Yard founder William F. Stone) in 1926 — less than a year before his deadline of May 1, 1927.

According to a 1992 article in WoodenBoat magazine, 46 men went to work on the project. The decked hull was launched in January ’27. But there was now a new deadline for completion — April 20. Two crews worked 10-hour shifts to finish the job, and the boat was delivered on April 21. Northern Light reportedly left for the Arctic the same day.

Schooner Northern Light
Apologies for the grainy image; it’s a screenshot of pages 118-119 of the January 2004 issue.
© 2024 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Archives

There is a story to accompany the boat’s 11,000-mile cruise, chronicled in the pages of The Cruise of the Northern Light, written by Borden’s wife and published under the name Mrs. John Borden.

Perhaps this would be a good addition to the Latitude 38 bookstore?
© 2024

In the meantime, you can read our story of the Northern Light build and cruise in Latitude 38‘s January 2004 issue.


  1. Vince Casalaina 3 months ago

    Did you ever get any follow up on Northern Light? This seems like a really interesting purpose build boat.

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