Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sailing Alone Around the World

On April 24th, 1895, a highly experienced sailor and shipmaster, Captain Joshua Slocum, embarked on a journey from Boston as the first sailor to circumnavigate the world single-handed, returning to Newport on June 27, 1898.  Slocum was a naturalized American citizen originally from Nova Scotia.

There was considerable international interest in Slocum's journey at the time and it was widely publicized and followed - and for good reason.  Aboard the "Spray," he crossed the Atlantic twice (to Gibraltar and back to South America), negotiated the Straight of Magellan (Cape Horn region) and crossed the Pacific. He visited many islands inhabited and otherwise, Australia, and South Africa before crossing the Atlantic (for the third time) to reach home after a journey of 46,000 miles.  Much of this time, the helm was unmanned and held course by lashing the wheel to the windlass.

Slocum's memoir of this adventure was published in 1899 and became an instant classic inspiring many sea travelers.  He often played down his own part in the success of the trip, attributing most to the "Spray."  Amber and I recently finished reading Slocum's book together.  We found it very interesting and readable and I would recommend it even for the non-sailor.  The book is available online for free here (no copyright infringement) or can be purchased as an e-book from Amazon, Google, etc. along with carefully drawn illustrations for just a few dollars.

Slocum rebuilt and refitted the (then) derelict 100 year old sloop, an oyster boat, in a seaside pasture at Fairhaven, Massachusetts during a thirteen-month period between early 1893 and 1894.  This he also did single handedly.  Materials were spruce for the mast, boom, and gaff poles.  The ribs, keel, and other key structural parts were of pasture white oak.  The planking of the ship (much to my amazement) was of yellow or Georgia pine (long-leaf).  The deck was planked with yellow pine and some "white" pine.  Keep in mind, this is not the same as the flimsy loblolly pine that we commonly think of today.  He used cement for ballast (no lead, iron, etc).

The "Spray" was approximately 36' LOA, 14' at the beam, and 4'5 below deck.  The spray left Boston as a sloop gaff rigged and returned with a modified yawl rig.  That's a lot of boat for one man and a lot of ocean.  Oh, did I mention - no hydraulics, no self tailing winches, no GPS, no plumbing, no refrigeration, no climate control, and get this, no compass (just a time-piece).  Incredible.

Favorite quote from Slocum's book: "To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter when the sea is in its grandest mood. You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over."


  1. This by far is one of my favorite books and one every adventure loving person should read. Truly amazing! Thanks for the great post on a remarkable man.

  2. I guess he had a good time piece. I am going to get the book for sure. Thanks for the review.

  3. While thumbing through the used sailboats on eBay, as I often do, I happened across a replica of the "Spray" built in 1998 and a very handsome one - $40K buy it now. Most of the construction is oak. Just check out how beamy this baby is!

  4. SRM - I hate you for telling me that! Geez I would love that boat.

  5. Thanks for the heads up on this piece of history and the free book link, I'm going to have the lady download this on her e book and I'm going to read it. Thanks! JGR

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