Under Way

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Born in the breezes: the wanderer’s credo

Born in the breezes: the wanderer’s credo

n many ways, Joshua Slocum’s message to would-be cruisers resonates as well today, if not better, than it did more than a century ago.

“To young men contemplating a voyage I would say go,” urged Slocum, the stoic, resourceful wanderer who left BostonApril 24, 1895, and sailed around the world alone, arriving back in Newport, R.I., more than three years later. The solo circumnavigation aboard the old but able Spray was a first.

Today, there are more sailors, adventurers and dreamers than ever plying distant waters. Whether they realize it or not, this current crop is following in the wake of Spray and her determined captain, who left on his historic 46,000-mile journey with a dollar and a half in his pocket. And Slocum’s subsequent book — “Sailing Alone Around the World” — is required reading for anyone interested in the sea.

I suspect Slocum would approve of what’s going on today, although he’d have to broaden his gender horizons a bit. Sometime later this month, Donna Lange is expected to sail back into Bristol, R.I., marking the completion of a two-year solo circumnavigation aboard her little28-foot Southern Cross sloop. When she does arrive, Lange will receive the prestigious Golden Circle Award from the Joshua Slocum Society, a small, non-profit group started 52 years ago to promote and recognize solo voyagers, circumnavigators and small-boat sailors in general, along with preserving Slocum’s legacy.

“It’s a great honor,” says Ted Jones, 80, the society’s commodore. “I just finished hers up yesterday.” A metallurgist, Jones fashions the brass and mahogany trophies himself.

The society is made up of a small but select group of cruisers, armchair sailors, and Slocum descendents and admirers. About a third of its 275 members are offshore sailors. In the dozen years since he’s been commodore, Jones estimates he’s given out nearly 20 Golden Circles.

Like Slocum, Jones believes in the value of keeping one’s eyes on the far horizon and seeking doable adventures. “Take a chance,” says Jones, who cruises with his wife aboard their 46-foot Lien Hwa ketch. “Step out a little bit further. Push yourself. Try and build your own boat. Take your boat off the lawn and launch it. It does something to you.”

Through its network of contacts worldwide, the society does its best to keep up with the dozen or more circumnavigators out there now. “We want to honor the solo circumnavigator,” Jones says, “their journeys, their plans, their problems, their achievements.”

The society also is doing its best to keep up with a world that no longer resembles Slocum’s or even the one that existed in the group’s formative years. Society member Mike Martel addressed the passage of time and the need to bring new blood and energy to the organization in an opinion piece published in one of the society’s journals.

“Times have changed since the Slocum Society was first founded,” Martel observed. “Back then, our culture was different. There were more sailing vagabonds around, and the lifestyle of the ’60s and ’70s supported that kind of Bohemianism. The Slocum Society was a clearinghouse for … those taking the ‘Ulysses option’ in the days before e-mail and satellite phones.”

In a sense, the group is at something of a crossroads. After a dozen years at the helm, Jones would like to turn the commodore’s responsibilities over to someone new, to the “right person” who could help raise the society’s visibility. “Put it in a different light,” he says.

Slocum certainly could relate to changing times and fortunes. The former merchant skipper was in his late 40s and down on his luck when a longtime friend gave him the dilapidated old fishing sloop that he rebuilt into Spray. He had no job and little money. The age of sail was passing, and Slocum had no stomach for moving to steam.

“And so when times for freighters got bad, as they at last did, and I tried to quit the sea, what was there for an old sailor to do?” Slocum writes in “Sailing Alone Around the World.” “I was born in the breezes, and I had studied the sea as perhaps few men have studied it, neglecting all else.”

For more information on the Joshua Slocum Society, contact Ted Jones, 15 Codfish Hill Road Extension, Bethel, CT06801. Phone: (203) 790-6616. E-mail: jone402@comcast.net . Dues are $35 annually, and members typically receive three newsletters and an annual publication. www.JoshuaSlocumSocietyIntl.org