Richard Henry Dana was a college student at Harvard before he shipped out as a sailor in the voyage recounted in Two Years Before the Mast (1840).
Dana (1815-82) suffered eye problems that led him to go out to sea in hopes of improving his health.
Working as a common seaman, he traveled around South America’s Cape Horn and collected and cured hides in California.
After two years (1834-36), he returned home, went to law school, and became an advocate for sailors.
His autobiographical account of his journey influenced such later writers as Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad.