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 Amazon.com 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!