Sailing Alone around the World was the only book of all the maritime literature I read that involved navigating the Straits of Magellan. In all the other ones the ships sailed around Cape Horn. Richard Henry Dana almost went back to Boston via the Straits, but the squalls—or williwaws, as Captain Slocum calls them—are too bad.
The Straits seem much more easily navigated by a little sloop, even with just one man for a crew, than by a full-rigged ship. Slocum has to make his way slowly, and amazingly he sails out into the Pacific only to be turned around by a gale and actually driven back into another part of the Straits, farther south. He’s forced to double back to the east before heading out west again and successfully reaching the open ocean.
The williwaws make the Straits dangerous, but they aren’t the only thing. The Fuegians were apparently known for raiding ships, even for successfully doing away with entire crews. Slocum is advised to be extremely careful and given a sack of carpet tacks.
One of his encounters with the Fuegians really does consist in their boarding at night and stepping on the carpet tacks, an especially valuable security alarm considering Slocum is alone. But he also ends up trading with them, for tallow. “Yammerschooner” is the word they shout when approaching in a canoe, indicating they wish to trade (or beg). Fuegians have mostly disappeared now, and they are a people I wish I knew more about. Two isolated languages,
Continue reading Yammerschooner!
What is it like to be at sea alone? Is it lonely? Is it boring? This was one of my main concerns in reading Sailing Alone, especially because so many other sea stories are so tied up in not being alone—in either being part of or ruling over a crew. What was Captain Slocum’s time like all by himself?
Most surprising to me was that when he said the Spray was self-steering, he really meant it. He seems to have spent most of his time on board cooking, eating, reading, and sleeping. There are stormy points where he has to steer for 30 hours straight, and lots of time spent in the rigging as well, and I’m sure he didn’t get in a lot of books around the Straits of Magellan. But a lot of time is passed with such diversions.
As to loneliness, Captain Slocum does feel it at first, but before reaching the Azores,
Thenceforth, most of his discussions of solitude are jokes: “But the turtle-steak was good. I found no fault with the cook, and it was the rule of the voyage that the cook found no fault with me. There was never a ship’s crew so well agreed.” No chance of mutiny, &tc.
In a few times of danger, the loneliness becomes a bit more of a problem. Off Morocco, Slocum is chased by pirates, and after getting away, “I was once more alone with myself in the realization that I
Continue reading Sailing around the world, alone
I am so impressed with Joshua Slocum as a person. Born “in the fair land of Nova Scotia, a maritime province,” he spent only a few years in school before beginning work to help his family, and worked on ships from the time he was a boy. He moved up steadily, becoming a captain, a part-owner, an owner, etc. And after decades captaining ships, his fortunes began to turn, because of the end of the age of sail and a string of unfortunate occurrences, until he was left with almost nothing.
At that point, a friendly captain makes him a present of a battered old sloop, the Spray. So old and battered, in fact, that Slocum finds it sitting in a field. He decides to rebuild it, and spends over a year ripping it apart and putting it back together, top to bottom. Since “it is a law in Lloyd’s that the Jane repaired all out of the old until she is entirely new is still the Jane,” the Spray is still the Spray, too, and this sloop will carry Slocum on a really amazing adventure—the first solo circumnavigation of the world, beginning in 1895.
Slocum says everyone wants to know if such a trip “will pay,” but he never cares about that. He’s discovered the Spray is self-steering (with the helm lashed), and that she’s a fine vessel in her rebuilt condition, and all he cares about is going to sea, being a sailor. He does find ways to make the trip pay, though, else he wouldn’t be able to continue it. He trades a bit, and he also gives lectures to the public at his various ports of call. This experience, along with the two previous book the uneducated and unedited Slocum had written, help him form
Continue reading Joshua Slocum and his Spray