Book Review: Sailing Alone around the World

I discovered Captain Joshua Slocum’s book Sailing Alone around the World—written more than 100 years ago (it was published in 1900)—while reading a New York Times review of another book, one written about Slocum. As some of you know, I’m a bit of a sucker for books about being a sea captain or pirate (usually of the romantic sort). So when I read in the review a quote from a British children’s writer (Arthur Ransome) that said, “who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once,” I was even more intrigued.

So of course I went straight to and bought a copy of the book, and read it at as soon as I could. What a delight! First of all, Captain Slocum is funny. And he is also incredibly brave. Imagine 100 years ago. First of all, EVERYONE was living off the grid. There was no electricity, no refrigeration, no cellphones, or GPS. And the world was still wild, lush, dangerous, and “uncivilized.” I mean, who knew that a bag of tacks would be one of his best gifts from a friend. Why? Because at night he could put them on deck and sleep without watching guard, so that if “savages” stole onto his decks at night, their shouts of pain when they stepped on the tacks would waken him. It worked.

Here is one of my favorite little stories about the time his boat, the Spray, got stuck and his dory capsized (with him in it).

“I grasped her gunwale and held on as she turned bottom up, for I suddenly remembered that I could not swim. Then I tried to right her, but with too much eagerness, for she rolled clean over, and left me as before, clinging to her gunwale, while my body was still in the water. Giving me a moment to cool reflection, I found that although the wind was blowing moderately toward the land, the current was carrying me to sea, and that something would have to be done. Three times I had been under water, in trying to right the dory, and I was just saying, “Now I lay me,” when I was seized by a determination to try yet once more, so that no one of the prophets of evil I had left behind me could say, “I told you so.” Whatever the danger may have been, much or little, I can truly say that the moment was the most serene of my life.”


Can you imagine sailing alone in a sailboat alone around the world, without any modern technology, and not even knowing how to SWIM?! Needless to say, he did get back in the dory and did complete his journey around the world, and to this day many boats are named the Spray, after his little boat.

Talk about local food, well, that’s all he could eat—including the flying fish that landed on the deck overnight and became his breakfast. And his description of Tasmania has put it on my short list of places I want to visit. But it’s his delightful storytelling that makes this book worth reading, even 100 years later. My favorite line of all: “The fisherman’s nephew, a lad about seven years old, deserves mention as the tallest blasphemer, for a short boy, that I met on the voyage.”

Enjoy the journey!


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7 Responses to Book Review: Sailing Alone around the World

  1. maria (farm country kitchen) April 6, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I forgot to mention that his description of Robert Louis Stevenson’s wife is reason enough to read this book…and read everything written by Robert Louis Stevenson too. That’s next on my list!

  2. Donna in Delaware April 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Sounds intriguing! Sounds like plenty of fun! Think I’ll read it on the airplane going to Europe next month. Bon voyage for sure!

    It’s back to Germany again, also Italy again, France again, and of course Switzerland. Maybe I’ll stop in Nurnberg(Nuremberg)! Will be thinking of you.

  3. Donna in Delaware April 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I forgot, sailing around the world alone out on the open seas scare me half to death. I don’t think that I have the nerve to go it alone, since I can’t swim either, only float! I started taking swimming classes early on, but had so many leg and foot cramps, that I just gave up. I still get leg cramps and charley horses, even in the swimming pool. I admire those who can take this journey alone.

  4. Amanda April 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    Sounds like a hoot! I love the bit about “cool reflection”–too funny. So any recommendations on those pirate romance novels you hint at?!

  5. Maya April 7, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    Amanda, you must check out The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries.

  6. mark April 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    This book sounds interesting, especially given that he did all this without modern technology. I just finished reading a new book, Unsinkable, about Abby Sunderland, a 16-year old who attempted to sail around the world alone (with technology!) and was shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean. Here’s a link to the Amazon page: It’s such a great portrait of courage and strength of will in the face of overwhelming odds.

  7. Lydia May 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    Quite familiar with the book – love anything to do with adventure, tenactiy, courage and wate. This one pretty much fits the bill!

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