Around the World Alone

Joshua Slocum was the first to do it, a hundred years ago, then wrote about it; the world is still awed by his seamanship and his prose

The Spray
The Spray Wikimedia Commons

Slocum began his voyage by sailing from Boston, across the Atlantic. In Gibraltar, as he headed toward the Suez Canal in his small wooden sailboat, Spray, a decrepit oyster dredger that he had rebuilt himself, he was warned that he didn't stand a chance of making it through the swarm of pirates in the Mediterranean. So, reasoning that there are two directions in which to round the world, Slocum started back across the Atlantic, setting course for Brazil. Nevertheless, he was soon being stalked by pirates. With luck and quick maneuvering he was able to elude them, but just barely. It was the first of many narrow escapes--from savages, deadly currents and rocky coasts--over the next three years. His solo passage through the hellish Strait of Magellan is arguably the most remarkable in history.

Joshua Slocum had grown accustomed to difficulties. As a seaman he'd suffered several setbacks and was virtually broke. His first wife had died young and he never really recovered from losing her. Slocum wasn't just a boat bum. Despite leaving school after the third grade, he became an accomplished writer. His dry wit, wry humor and Yankee observations about nature led some to call him a "sea-locked Thoreau." His book, Sailing Alone Around the World, has been translated into more than six languages and is still very much in print. It has done more to promote small boat sailing and voyaging than any book ever written, says Mike Martel, of the Joshua Slocum Society International. Slocum is a legend among those who sail small boats around the world, and there are Slocum Societies on three continents. A variety of commemorative and educational activities are planned for the June 1998 centennial of Slocum's voyage.

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