Single-handed Sailing – going solo without GPS

On April 24, 1895, Joshua Slocum set sail from Boston, alone, in a tiny sloop he had rescued from disrepair and abandonment, to become the first solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe.

The trip covered 46,000 miles and took three years to circle back to Newport, Rhode Island on June 27, 1898. No GPS. No bottled water. No Facebook or twitter.

Born for the sea, when Josh was 16, he ran away from home (he had already left once at age 14 to work on a deep sea fishing boat) and became a seaman, crewing many deep-water sailing ships, working his way up from “rail meat” to ordinary seaman on merchant vessels bound for Europe and beyond.

Working his way up the ladder, Joshua obtained his first command on the California coast in 1869, and sailed for 13 years out of San Francisco to China, Australia, the Spice Islands, and Japan. From his logs, Josh wrote about his experiences, and self-published “Voyage of the Liberdade” in 1890, and “Voyage of the Destroyer,” both at his own expense. His most popular book was yet to be written.

Josh had yearned to own a vessel since his youthful days tossing on the cold waters of the north Pacific. In 1892, a friend, Captain Eben Pierce, offered Slocum a ship that “wants some repairs,” and Slocum eagerly traveled to check out the fixer in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The “ship” was a rotting oyster sloop propped up in a field. It was called the “Spray.”

Three years later, the re-built and restored sloop was again seaworthy, and Josh set out for his around the world journey, never before accomplished, as a singlehanded voyage. Slocum navigated by the lunar method and dead reckoning, using a cheap tin clock for approximate time, and noon sun sightings for latitude.

A ‘singlehanded’ voyage can include stops, but no additional crew or assistance is permitted while advancing the boat’s position as it transits toward the next destination. This historic achievement made Captain Joshua Slocum the patron saint of small-boat voyagers, navigators and adventurers all over the world.

A modern “Spray” design –

Photo courtesy of Bruce Roberts.

To this day, sailors design and build new sailing ships based on the original lines of Joshua Slocum’s “Spray.” Several have been built in timber based on the original lines provided in his epic classic Sailing Alone Around the World, still considered one of the best adventure books of all time, recounting his remarkable achievement.

On November 14th, 1909, at the age of 65, Captain Slocum set out on another lone voyage to South America from Martha’s Vineyard, but was never heard from again.

Links for more information:

Joshua Slocum Society 

Bruce Roberts Sailing

If you have a story to tell, I’m always looking for 7 Minute “adventuristas” to contribute short, interesting, and fun pieces, so click through to find out how to become involved in  Coffee Break Escape.

Beverly Nault writes safely from her armchair in Southern California, navigating the globe by the Internet, and communicating via social media on Facebook and Twitter. Visit her at www.beverlynault.com. 

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