Classics: Spray

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“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.”

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And so the 51-year-old mariner, Joshua Slocum, set off on a journey into history. Three years later, there he was, in Newport, Rhode Island, the first man to sail around the world alone. The Nova-Scotia-born sailor had covered 46,000 miles, navigating by dead reckoning using a tin clock and a sextant.

Slocum’s book, Sailing Alone Around the World, became a sensation and made him a celebrity — and his boat a legend.

Spray measured just over 36 feet, with a 14-foot beam and a 4-foot draft, and it was actually a derelict in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, when a whaling-captain acquaintance gave it to Slocum. He spent the next three years rebuilding the boat to his standards. It still didn’t look like much, but Slocum knew what he was about. “Yachtsmen … will not think favorably on her,” he said. “They have a right to their opinion, while I stick to mine.”

Spray turned out to be the perfect long-distance cruiser for a man with Slocum’s sailing skills, with what one designer later called remarkable balance; Spray could sail itself for days on end. Slocum would set the sails to the wind, lash down the helm and “just let her go,” he wrote. “Whether the wind was abeam or dead aft, she always stayed on course.” With well-secured, concrete internal ballast, Spray would lie hove-to with goose-winged sail in rough seas for hours on end.

Slocum continued to sail his beloved boat for several years, voyaging as far as the West Indies, even as his fame and fortune diminished. In 1909, at age 65, he and Spray left his Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, home, bound for South America, hoping to perhaps write another book. He was never heard from again. In 1924 Joshua Slocum was officially declared dead.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.