Born: September 25, 1940;

Died: December 18, 2020.

IN 1976, a 36-foot leather boat graunched up on a beach of the Hebridean island of Iona. The two-masted curragh, Brendan, had been made out of quarter-inch-thick skins from 49 cattle, sewn with almost two miles of leather thongs on to a highly flexible oak and ash frame that was designed to bend with the waves.

Its skipper, Tim Severin, who has died in Ireland aged 80, was a slender and dapper young man who was once described as being like a golf-club secretary.

He amazed onlookers with the news that his plan was to sail and row his wobbly boat across the Atlantic.

His plan was to show that it was quite possible that a monk called St Brendan had had the facility to have made the trip 500 years before the Vikings and 900 before Columbus, and that previously dismissed stories about Brendan’s expeditions across the Atlantic might even have been true.

Few were convinced, but one who was certainly intrigued was Edan Kenneil, a usually barefooted, Kintyre-based charter boat skipper who was on Iona the island at the time and signed on as crew almost immediately.

According to Edan, the journey’s next leg to the Faroe Islands was both fascinating and intermittently terrifying and included members of the crew having to dunk their heads under very cold water in order to sew up the leather that had been punctured by floating ice.

Once on the islands, they also signed up the now internationally famous artist Trondur Patursson, who was to go on to join Severin on a number of other expeditions.

Bizarrely, the Brendan expedition succeeded, with the curragh finally arriving in America having spent a little over a year island-hopping across the Atlantic, making landings at both the Faroe Islands and Iceland – and, to Severin’s disappointment, being swept past Greenland as they powered on to Newfoundland.

His subsequent book about the trip was hugely successful, being reportedly translated into 16 languages and even inspiring at least two major orchestral compositions in honour of the expedition.

The expedition and the book helped facilitate Severin to undertake at least a dozen similar expeditions on both land and sea and he was still busy with them right up to his sixties and was lecturing on cruise ships till he was 76.

Some years after the Brendan voyage this writer was to sail with Edan to the Faroese to meet up with Trondur, his former crewmate on the Brendan, and was lucky enough to listen to the pair talk extensively of their admiration for the Severin, whom they memorably described as being both fiercely tough and resolute; he was, they added, also very gentle and endlessly curious about how history could be both illuminated and explored through themed voyages using rebuilds of ancient craft on ancient routes.

Giles Timothy Severin was born in India as the son of an impoverished tea planter and educated back in England at Tonbridge, where he received a scholarship to Oxford to study Geography and History.

He was the fourth generation to be born in India and, having been sent back to be educated in England when aged six, he never really saw England as his home and was cursed with a wanderlust.

His first major expedition was as an undergraduate when he decided to ride a motorbike across Asia in the footsteps of Marco Polo, with one of his companions being Stanley Johnson, the father of Boris.

His later book on the trip was reviewed as being both hilarious and interesting. Lean and wiry and with a ready smile, he lacked the macho posturing or narcissism so often seen in that trade, and in his many films about his many expeditions he usually preferred to be behind the camera rather than in front of it. He once established his philosophy by saying: “I recreated the boat of Brendan and set out to see what would happen and it was in that way that I discovered that, for me, the fascination of travel wasn’t just space but being able to go back in time”.

His 12 major expeditions over almost 40 years ran to a pretty much established formula.

First would come the idea and the seeking of funding, then perhaps years of research and boatbuilding, then the expedition, and finally the book.

The themes for the expeditions betray a perhaps savvy interest in the commercial and he retraced some of the storied journeys of Marco Polo, Brendan, Sinbad, Jason, Ulysses, Genghis Khan and Robinson Crusoe.

In his latter days he moved into fiction and wrote a number of adventure books, most notably about the Vikings.

His awards included a doctorate from Trinity Dublin, and the Founder’s medal from the National Geographical Society.

Not a particularly wealthy man, he set up home near Cork, claiming it was the only place he could afford a suitable house and it is said that he supported his writing through renting out holiday cottages.

He married twice, firstly to Dorothy Sherman in 1966 (the marriage was later dissolved) and, latterly, to Dee. He had a girl by his first marriage, Ida, who bore him two male grandchildren. His beloved curragh, Brendan, is preserved in a museum in Ireland.

She is perhaps a stone to his cairn.