Joshua Slocum, born in Nova Scotia in 1844, fell in love with the sea and sailing ships early in life, and began his life on the briny when he signed on as a cabin boy at age 14. From that small beginning, he worked his way up, captaining sail driven ships trading with China, Australia and Japan.

Interestingly enough, when Slocum began his career as a captain of sail driven ships only sailing vessels could trade with the far eastern nations. Steamships could not carry enough coal to cover the long routes around the southern tip of Africa or South America.

However, when the Suez Canal opened in 1869 it became possible for coal powered steamships to sail to the Far East, and by 1892, after a life spent at sea, Slocum found himself out of a job in Boston, while his beloved sailing ships were being “cut down for coal-barges, and ignominiously towed by the nose from port to port.” Having earlier “made calculations as to the size and sort of ship safest for all weather and all seas,” he was delighted when a friend offered him the gift of a small derelict sloop named the Spray, saying that Slocum could have the old ship if he was willing to refit it.

Slocum went to work on the Spray with a will, rebuilding it from stem to stern all by himself, using oak and pine, and binding it together with over a thousand bolts to make it as seaworthy as any ship ever built. Exactly when the idea of sailing his little sloop around the world entered his thoughts during the process of rebuilding it, he does not say, but it must have been quite early because he went to an immense amount of trouble to build it so well that it was almost unsinkable.

And so from the old Spray, which had sat moldering in an open field for seven years, arose a new Spray, one that Slocum had spent well over a year of his life rebuilding. After sailing it up and down the coast for a few weeks, Slocum dropped anchor in Yarmouth, Mass., stocked up on water and food, and quite confidently bought a used clock with a broken glass face for one dollar, which he intended to use as his “chronometer” in charting his progress. Then on July 1, 1895, he headed out to sea, intent on sailing around the world.

Which he did!

Slocum first sailed to the Azores and then to Gibraltar, from where he set sail and headed south in the Atlantic past Morocco, only to be pursued by Moorish pirates whose ship “broached to on the crest of a great wave” and sank, while the Spray escaped the same wave with nothing worse than a slightly damaged boom.

From there, the Spray continued south, stopping in at the Canary and Cape Verde Islands, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires before entering the Straits of Magellan, where — in addition to intense storms — Slocum had to fend off canoes full of Indians who attempted to capture his small ship when they saw he was alone.

But all that was just the beginning of a 46,000-mile adventure unlike anything you have ever read, described by Slocum in the book he penned on his return three years later, “Sailing Alone Around the World,” of which one of its reviewers wrote, “I do not hesitate to call it the most extraordinary book ever published.”

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