It's Joshua Slocum's birthday today. He'd be 169... a bit old for cruising maybe. He was the first person to sail around the world alone way back before the turn of the 20th century … before GPS, sat phones, internet and ATMs. We first read Sailing Alone Around the World before we ever went sailing. It was an evocative book, full of adventure, mishap and exciting places. Since then, our dog-eared copy has been read many times.
He left Gloucester, Massachusetts in his 36' (11M) gaff-rigged sloop oyster boat, Spray, in April 1895. He talked of Monhegan Light and the dense fog in Maine and Nova Scotia. We had witnessed this fog and the claustrophobic feeling you get when its denseness surrounds and nearly smothers you. He talked to the man in the moon. Though I consider the moon a “her”, it's the same moon and I do speak to her regularly when she startles me with her brilliant rising on clear nights during my watch.
He experienced williwaws and watched steamer ducks in the Patagonian canal anchorages, stopped at Sandy Point (now Punta Arenas, Chile) in the Straits of Magellan and enjoyed the excitement of Buenos Aires. As we traveled and stopped in the same places he'd been, we re-read the book, sometimes out loud to each other, and we'd marvel that so much was different, but so much was still the same.
We shared the same thrill seeing Table Mountain on approach to Cape Town, South Africa.
We, too, appreciated the lushness of St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic, though we made sure not to take any goats aboard … gifts or not. His goat ate all of his charts!
We were in sync with Slocum as we climbed the very same hill on Juan Fernandez Island that he had, trying to capture the spirit of Alexander Selkirk, the real Robinson Crusoe, who had climbed it every morning in hopes of seeing the ship that would rescue him.
Though he was an experienced sailor and seaman, Slocum had lots of dragons to slay and we appreciated his trials and tribulations, as well as his courage and inventiveness. Lesson learned: No matter how experienced you are, Neptune finds a way of providing challenges. Slocum's imaginary friend, the pilot of the “Pinta”, kept him company and provided counsel many times on this monumental voyage. Thankfully, I have David.
In 1900, he wrote Sailing Alone Around the World about his journey which became an international best-seller and is still considered a classic of travel literature. In November 1909, Slocum set sail for the West Indies on one of his usual winter voyages and was never heard from again.
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