Joshua Slocum

(c. 1844—1910)

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American seaman. He was born at Wilmot Township, Nova Scotia, and went to sea as a ship's cook at the age of 12 after running away from home. In 1869 he was master of a trading schooner on the coast of California and a year later commanded the barque Washington in which, after a voyage to Australia, he sailed to set up a salmon fishery in Alaska. After an adventurous career, which included building a steamer of 150 tons on the jungle coast of Manila, Slocum became master and part-owner of the square-rigged Northern Light, ‘the finest American sailing vessel afloat’, and then purchased the small barque Aquidneck in which he made several voyages before she was lost in 1886 on a sandbank off the coast of Brazil. His second wife and two sons by his first, one of whom was still a small boy, were on board at the time. From the remains of his ship Slocum completed a 10.6-metre (35-ft) sailing boat with a canoe hull which he had been building on board. He named her Liberdade and brought his family safely back to New York in her after a voyage of over 8,000 kilometres (5,000 mls.). Slocum knew all about Chinese shipbuilding, for he built her with bamboo-batten lugsails, multiple sheets, and a fenestrated rudder. He wrote later that he thought the Chinese sampan style ‘the most convenient boat rig in the whole world’.

His book about this adventure, Voyage of the Liberdade, was published in 1894 and the Liberdade is now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. In 1892, while he was writing it, he was offered what remained of a 11-metre (36-ft) sloop called Spray which was lying under a tarpaulin in a field at Fairhaven where she had been for the previous seven years. Slocum bought her, largely rebuilt her with oak which he felled, shaped, and treated himself, and in 1895 left Boston in her. His subsequent circumnavigation, by way of Gibraltar, the Magellan Straits, Australia, and South Africa, is believed to be first single-handed voyage round the world.

Having hardly any money, he supported himself by lectures at his various ports of call, earning enough to keep his family and cover his expenses. He arrived back at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1898 and wrote a book about his experiences. Called Sailing Alone around the World (1900), it has become a classic of its kind through its simple, direct style, wit, and dry humour. In November 1909, at the age of 65, he set out from Bristol, Rhode Island, on another lone voyage, but was never heard of again. It is thought that the Spray was either run down by a steamer in mid-ocean, or struck a whale and sank, as she was too soundly built, and Slocum too experienced a sailor, to have been lost from any other cause.

Spray, 11 m (36 ft), 1894

Subjects: Maritime History.

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