Around The World Alone In A Fishing Boat

The Spray, in which Joshua Slocum sailed 46,000 miles around the world
The Spray, in which Joshua Slocum sailed 46,000 miles around the world

by Ray Setterfield


June 27, 1898 — Joshua Slocum stepped ashore at Newport, Rhode Island, late on this day after sailing alone around the world. He was the first person to achieve such a feat and did it, he wrote, “because I was amused by the assertions that it could not be done.”

What made the voyage even more remarkable was that Slocum accomplished it in a decrepit 37-foot (11.2m) fishing boat which he had rebuilt and named Spray.

Showing himself to be a fine writer as well as an extraordinary sailor, Slocum told of his adventure in a book called Sailing Alone Around The World. In it he described his departure from Boston, Massachusetts:

“I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895 was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston . . . The twelve o'clock whistles were blowing just as the sloop shot ahead under full sail . . . and swung past the ferries with lively heels . . .

“A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood.

“The day was perfect, the sunlight clear and strong. Every particle of water thrown into the air became a gem, and the Spray, making good her name as she dashed ahead, snatched necklace after necklace from the sea . . .

“We have all seen miniature rainbows about a ship’s prow, but the Spray flung out a bow of her own that day, such as I had never seen before. Her good angel had embarked on the voyage; I so read it in the sea.”

More than three years later, on June 27, 1898, Slocum ended his voyage at Newport, Rhode Island. His route had taken him to Nova Scotia, the Azores, Gibraltar, South America, Samoa, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies. He had sailed 46,000 miles (74,000 km) in three years, two months, and two days.

Astonishingly, his return was almost unhailed – but only because the Spanish-American war was raging at the time and occupying almost everyone’s attention. In fact, the harbour had been mined against the possibility of a Spanish naval attack, adding to Slocum’s difficulties.

Describing the final leg of his incredible journey he wrote: “It was close work but it was safe enough as long as the Spray hugged the rocks, and not the mines.”

Born in 1844 in Nova Scotia, Slocum first went to sea at the age of 16 aboard a merchant ship to Ireland. The sea was then in his blood and he spent the rest of his life travelling to ports around the world. During an extended stay in the US he became a naturalised American citizen.

By 1909, Slocum had told friends that his next adventure would be to explore the Orinoco, Rio Negro and Amazon rivers, but on November 14, that year he set sail in the Spray for the West Indies on one of his usual winter voyages.

He was never seen or heard from again. In July 1910, his wife issued a statement saying she believed that her husband, who had never learnt to swim, was lost at sea. In 1924, Joshua Slocum was legally declared dead.

Published: June 3, 2021


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