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BOOK REVIEW

Joshua Slocum circa 1983 when he was 39. Photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum.

A Man for All Oceans Captain Joshua Slocum and the first solo voyage around the world By Stan Grayson; Review by Steve Morrell

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hen I do a book review, I either read the book or I closely inspect it and report what I find. When I received a press release that this book was out, I wanted to read it and contacted the publisher to get a copy. I did read it—and found it captivating. I read Slocum’s book, Sailing Alone Around the World, back in 1979 when I was living on a 26-foot wooden Folkboat. I remember much about the book, but not much about the man who wrote it. I knew it had to be someone remarkable to be sailing around the world alone back in 1895, but just as remarkable was the fact that anyone was doing it in a small boat like Slocum’s Spray, at 36 feet 9 inches. I don’t know if others had circled the globe in boats that small in that era, but if they did, I doubt there were many, if any. Today, it’s not unusual for a boat of that size to be sailed around the world. But everything’s different today. Although I read it almost 40 years ago, I remember parts of Slocum’s trip as he wrote about it. But Slocum’s book was about the trip, not an autobiography. To me, the most interesting part of this biography was the part of his life before the circumnavigation. That’s not to say the navigation part wasn’t interesting—it was. It’s that after you read this book, you realize that for Slocum to sail around the world alone was something that he was well-suited to do. He was a master sailor and navigator with years of experience sailing and commanding ships on the high seas in all parts of the world. Writing a biography about someone like Slocum—who lived more than 100 years ago—is not an easy task. He wasn’t a famous statesman or industrialist or scientist. Those types of people are public figures, generally surrounded by others who write about them in newspapers, magazines, journals, letters...there’s lots of biographical information. But Slocum, who started sailing at a young age, was just one of many thousands of seagoing captains who sailed the seas moving cargo for a living at a time when sailing ships were in their heyday (although right on the cusp of motorized ships). The biographer, Stan Grayson, is a recognized author of automotive and yachting history who has been interested in Slocum for decades. In this book, he talks straight to the reader about his sources of information and discusses parts of Slocum’s life that are in doubt because of lack of information, or because the dates conflicted with other dates from other sources. There were a couple of biographies of Slocum, but after reading this book you realize Grayson’s is by far the most complete, as he discusses them in the book. He uses the other biographies, referring to them regularly, as just some of the sources to help put together a complete picture, telling the reader what might be in doubt. In Grayson’s introduction, he makes the statement that Slocum’s chosen life as “master of sailing ships” was a dangerous life. But he makes this statement, which I found to be 40

August 2017

SOUTHWINDS

true after reading the book: “In fact, the challenges Slocum faced as a sailing ship captain were—perhaps with one exception—greater than anything he confronted on the Spray voyage.” In Slocum’s pre-circumnavigation years, he worked his way up from seaman to master mariner, sometimes being owner or co-owner of his sailing ship. He sailed the world, particularly all over the Pacific, meeting his wife in Australia, who sailed with him everywhere. They sailed together with their children. At one point, while they were visiting New York City on board their sailing ship, Northern Light, the New York Herald did an article on the Slocums, their boat and their lifestyle, calling them “a typical American ship, commanded by a typical American sailor who has a typical American wife.” But Grayson writes there was nothing typical about them. Here is how the reporter described their life aboard Northern Light, a 233-foot “moderate clipper”: Mrs. Slocum sat busily engaged with her little girl at needlework. Her baby boy was fast asleep in his Chinese cradle. An older son was putting his room in order, and a second son was sketching. The captain’s stateroom is a commodious apartment, furnished with a double berth which one might mistake for a black walnut bedstead; a transom upholstered like a lounge, a library, chairs, carpets, wardrobe and the chronometers. This room is abaft the main cabin which is furnished like a parlor. In this latter apartment are the square piano, center table, sofa, easy chairs and carpets, while on the walls hang several oil paintings. It’s not in every sailing ship that you find a cabin with a piano, sofa and easy chairs—hardly typical. Unfortunately, Slocum lost his wife at sea to sickness when she was very young. Slocum’s boats were also known to be always impeccably clean and in ship-shape condition. He was also known as a master navigator, knowing more than most captains and navigators. One comment from Grayson’s book that surprised me: “Slocum himself at times attributed his voyage to his need to make money.” After some disasters at sea, Slocum returned to the northeast U.S. and struggled to make a living. The Spray was given to him, which he rebuilt. After reading this book, you realize that Slocum’s vast ocean sailing experience made his circumnavigation a somewhat simple task for this man, although at the time, others found it remarkable, and he often came to ports where people had already heard about the man who was sailing alone around the world. Available through the publisher at www.tilburyhouse.com, Amazon and other booksellers. $29.95. Hardcover, 2017. The book has some illustrations, photos and maps. www.southwindsmagazine.com

Southwinds August 2017  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...

Southwinds August 2017  

A free, printed sailing magazine reporting on sailing in the southeast U.S: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Missi...