Joshua Slocum (February 20, 1844 – on or shortly after 14 November, 1909) was a Canadian-born American seaman and adventurer, a noted writer, and the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. In 1900 he told the story of this in Sailing Alone Around the World. He disappeared in November 1909 while aboard his boat, the Spray, originally sloop-rigged, but re-rigged as a yawl in the midst of his circumnavigation, while Slocum was traversing the Strait of Magellan.
Joshua Slocum was born in the family's farm house in Mount Hanley and learned to read and write at the nearby Mount Hanley School. His earliest ventures on the water were made on coastal schooners operating out of the small ports such as Port George and Cottage Cove near Mount Hanley along the Bay of Fundy. When Joshua was eight years old, the Slocum family moved from Mount Hanley to Brier Island in Digby County, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Slocum's maternal grandfather was the keeper of the lighthouse at Southwest Point there. His father, a stern man and strict disciplinarian, took up making leather boots for the local fishermen, and Joshua helped in the shop. However, the boy, quite naturally, found the scent of salt air much more alluring than the smell of shoe leather. He yearned for a life of adventure at sea, away from his demanding father and his increasingly chaotic life at home among so many brothers and sisters.
He made several attempts to run away from home, finally succeeding, at age fourteen, by hiring on as a cabin boy and cook on a fishing schooner, but he soon returned home. In 1860, after the birth of the eleventh Slocum child and the subsequent death of his kindly mother, Joshua, then sixteen, left home for good. He and a friend signed on at Halifax as ordinary seamen on a merchant ship bound for Dublin, Ireland.
In 1865, he settled in San Francisco, became an American citizen, and, after a period of salmon fishing and fur trading in the Oregon Territory of the northwest, he returned to the sea to pilot a schooner in the coastwise trade between San Francisco and Seattle. His first blue-water command, in 1869, was the barque Washington, which he took across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Australia, and home via Alaska.
He sailed for thirteen years out of the port of San Francisco, —— to China, Australia, the Spice Islands, and to Japan —— transporting mixed cargoes. Between 1869 and 1889, he was the master of eight vessels, the first four of which (the Washington, the Constitution, the Benjamin Aymar and the Amethyst) he commanded in the employ of others. Later, there would be four others that he himself owned, in whole or in part.
Shortly before Christmas 1870, Slocum and the Washington put in at Sydney, Australia. There, in about a month's time, he met, courted, and married a young woman named Virginia Albertina Walker. Their marriage took place on 31 January 1871. Miss Walker, quite coincidentally, was an American whose New York family had migrated west to California at the time of the 1849 gold rush and eventually continued on, by ship, to settle in Australia. She sailed with Slocum, and, over the next thirteen years, bore him seven children at sea, four of whom, sons Victor, Benjamin Aymar, and Garfield, and daughter Jessie, survived to adulthood.
In Alaska, the Washington was wrecked when she dragged her anchor during a gale, ran ashore, and broke up. Slocum, however, at considerable risk to himself, managed to save his wife, the crew, and much of the cargo, bringing all back to port safely in the ship's open boats. The owners of the shipping company that had employed Slocum were impressed by this feat of ingenuity and leadership, so they gave him the command of the Constitution which he sailed to Hawaii and the west coast of Mexico.
His next command was the Benjamin Aymar, a merchant vessel in the South Seas trade. However, the owner, strapped for cash, sold the vessel out from under Slocum, and he and Virginia found themselves stranded in the Philippines without a ship. There, in 1874, under a commission from a British architect, Slocum organized native workers to build a 150-ton steamer in the shipyard at Subic Bay. In partial payment for the work, he was given the ninety-ton schooner, Pato, the first ship he could call his own.
Ownership of the Pato afforded Slocum the kind of freedom and autonomy he had never experienced before. Hiring a crew, he contracted to deliver a cargo to Vancouver in British Columbia. Thereafter, he used the Pato as a general freight carrier along the west coast of North America and in voyages back and forth between San Francisco and Hawaii. During this period, Slocum also fulfilled a long-held ambition to become a writer; he became a temporary correspondent for the San Francisco Bee.
The Slocum Family continued on their next ship, the 326 ton Aquidneck. In 1884, Virginia became ill aboard the Aquidneck in Buenos Aires and died. Sailing to Massachusetts, his three youngest children, Benjamin Aymar, Jessie and Garfield were left in the care of his sisters while his oldest son Victor continued as his first mate.
In 1886, Slocum married again to his 24 year old cousin, Henrietta ("Hettie") Elliott. The Slocum family, save Jessie and Benjamin Aymar once again took to the sea aboard the Aquidneck bound for Montevideo, Uruguay. Slocum's second wife would find life at sea much less appealing than his first. A few days into Henrietta's first voyage, the Aquidneck sailed through a huricanne. By the end of this first year, the crew had contracted cholera and were quarantined for six months. Later, Slocum was forced to defend his ship from pirates, one of which he shot and killed. For the incident he was tried and acquitted for murder. Next, the Aquidneck was infected with smallpox leading to the death of three of the crew. Disinfecting of the ship was performed at considerable cost to Slocum. Shortly after, near the end of 1887, the unlucky Aquidneck wrecked in southern Brazil.
His next boat, the Liberdade, was an unusual junk-rigged design which he described as a cross between a "Chinese sampan" and a "Cape Ann Dorie,". In 1888 he and his family began their voyage back to the United States. After fifty-five days at sea, the Slocums reached South Carolina and continued on until finally reaching New York in 1889. This was the last time Henrietta sailed with the family. In 1890, Slocum published the accounts of these adventures in the Voyage of the Liberdade.
On April 24, 1895, he set sail from Boston, Massachusetts. In his famous book, Sailing Alone Around the World, now considered a classic of travel literature, he described his departure in the following manner:
After an extended visit to his boyhood home at Brier Island and visiting old haunts on the coast of Nova Scotia, Slocum took his departure from North America at Sambro Island Lighthouse near Halifax, Nova Scotia on July 3, 1895.
Slocum navigated without a chronometer, instead relying on the traditional method of dead reckoning for longitude, which required only a cheap tin clock for approximate time, and Noon Sun sights for latitude. On one long passage in the Pacific, Slocum also famously shot a lunar distance observation, decades after these observations had ceased to be commonly employed, which allowed him to check his longitude independently. But Slocum's primary method for finding longitude was dead reckoning. He only took one lunar observation during the entire circumnavigation.
Slocum normally sailed Spray without touching the helm. Due to the length of the sail plan relative to the hull, and the long keel, Spray was inherently capable of self-steering (unlike faster modern craft), being able to be balanced stably on any course relative to the wind by adjusting or reefing the sails and by 'lashing' the helm. He tells us that he only helmed Spray when manoeuvering or in an emergency, and was proud of the fact that he sailed west across the Pacific without once touching the helm. (ref needed).
More than three years later, on June 27, 1898, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island, having circumnavigated the world, a distance of more than 46,000 miles (74,000 km). Slocum's return went almost unnoticed. The Spanish-American War which had begun two months earlier dominated the headlines. After the end of major hostilities, many American newspapers published articles describing Slocum's amazing adventure.
In 1899 he published his account of the epic voyage in Sailing Alone Around the World, first serialized in The Century Magazine and then in several book editions. Reviewers received the Age of Sail adventure story enthusiastically. Arthur Ransome went so far as to declare, "Boys who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once. In his review, Sir Edwin Arnold wrote, "I do not hesitate to call it the most extraordinary book ever published." Slocum's book deal was an integral part of his journey: his publisher had provided Slocum with an extensive on-board library, and Slocum wrote several letters to his editor from distant points around the globe.
Slocum's Sailing Alone won him wide fame in the English-speaking world. He was one of eight invited speakers at a dinner in honor of Mark Twain in December, 1900. Slocum hauled the Spray up the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York for the Pan-American Exposition in the summer of 1901, and was well compensated for participating in the fair.
A few weeks after his conviction in New Jersey, Slocum and the Spray visited Sagamore Hill, the estate of US President Theodore Roosevelt on the north shore of Long Island, New York. Roosevelt and his family were interested in the tales of Slocum's solo circumnavigation. The President's young son, Archie, along with a guardian, spent the next few days sailing with Slocum up to Newport aboard the Spray which by then was a decrepit, weather-worn vessel. Slocum again met with President Roosevelt in May 1907 (sources disagree on the date), this time at the White House in Washington. Supposedly, Roosevelt said to him, "Captain, our adventures have been a little different." And Slocum answered, "That is true, Mr. President, but I see you got here first."
By 1909, Slocum's funds were running low; book revenues had tailed off. He was prepared to sell his farm on Martha's Vineyard and began to make plans for a new adventure in South America with hopes for another book deal.
Slocum's voyages and his book have proved an inspiration for many mariners, writers and travellers. The name Spray has become a popular choice for cruising yachts since the publication of Slocum's account of his circumnavigation, in fond memory of his achievements. Over the years, many versions of Spray have been built from the plans in Slocum's book, more or less reconstructing the sloop with various degrees of success. These include the Thane, based in Victoria in British Columbia, which is slightly larger than Spray herself.
Similarly, the French long-distance sailor Bernard Moitessier christened his ketch-rigged boat Joshua in honor of Slocum. It was this boat that Moitessier sailed from Tahiti to France, passing through six days and nights of deadly storms near Cape Horn. He also sailed Joshua in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race around the world, making great time, only to drop out near the end and sail on to Tahiti.
An underwater glider, a type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), designed by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, was named after Slocum's ship Spray. It became the first AUV to cross the Gulf Stream, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
In addition to several biographies about Slocum, his life was given novelistic treatment by author Cameron Royce Jess in the 2004 book Soul Voyage. In 2001, Billy Collins published a collection of his poetry, entitled Sailing Alone Around the Room a clear homage to Joshua Slocum.
A monument to Slocum exists on Brier Island, Nova Scotia, not far from his family's boot shop which still stands. Slocum is commemorated in museum exhibits at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Mount Hanley Schoolhouse Museum at his birthplace.
The noted sculptor, Daniel Chester French, created a memorial to Joshua Slocum that stands in Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, but of course since Slocum was lost at sea, his remains are not at Forest Hills.
The Slocum River in Dartmouth, Massachusetts was named for him.