The Slocum Spray Society

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History Page

This page is a compilation of some of the more significant historical and technical aspects of Joshua Slocum, his voyage in the Spray, and the original Spray itself.

Arrival in Australia.

In his book ,"Sailing Alone Around the World", Chapter 13, Captain Slocum stated clearly that he coasted down the west side of the Fijian Archipelago, “thence I sailed direct for New South Wales, passing south of New Caledonia, and arrived in Newcastle after a passage of 42 days (from Samoa).” His first landfall in Australia, his book states, was Seal Rocks (just north of Port Stephens), in a gale which he weathered  during “many hours” until he was able to make it to Newcastle still “in the teeth of a gale of wind” on 29 September 1896.

It is therefore mysterious why he decided to delete a portion of his Australian cruise.  The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’ Advocate”  Wed. September 30, 1896 wrote: Shortly after 6 am yesterday morning the little vessel was seen making for the harbour, and …. towed the little vessel to the quarantine buoy...

Captain Slocum originally intended to visit Brisbane, but on arrival off Cape Moreton decided to come on south. Captain Slocum has been credited with not being communicative or knowing whether he was going north or south, and in view of statements which have appeared, it will be well to give his story in his own words.
He says: “I arrived off the Cape Moreton light on the Saturday evening, the wind being light and a current setting south. On signaling, the pilot steamer came out, but instead of coming down, he remained a long distance away and hailed me: I could hear him well enough, but my voice, having had little or no use during my 14 months’ voyage probably would not reach the steamer. Had the vessel come within easy speaking distance I should have been glad enough to talk and still more pleased to get a pull inside. Anyway, the steamer finding I was not in distress went away, and I continued my voyage.” From Cape Moreton the vessel was worked down the coast, being reported at Seal Rocks, where she fell in with a strong southerly gale, which compelled the captain to make on and off the land. Sunday was spent dodging under the lee of Cape Hawke, and on Monday a slant was obtained which carried the vessel down to Knobbys,
(entrance to Newcastle) which was sighted at 12 pm on Monday. Having decided to go on to Sydney, Captain Slocum kept the vessel on her course, and by 2:30 am yesterday morning was halfway between Broken Bay and Newcastle, when a southerly ‘buster’ compelled him to run back to Newcastle, where the vessel, as already stated, arrived at 6:30 am yesterday.  (see below for the full newspaper article)

The question is, why did he “fiddle the book” on this small part of his voyage?  He mentions several gales, one near New Caledonia being severe enough to founder an American clipper ship. Perhaps he was forced to alter course, or was blown so far off course, to the extent that it was easier to make landfall off southern Queensland. Cape Moreton being some 450 NM and several days sailing, north of Newcastle. Perhaps he viewed the missing bit as mundane and unimportant (or embarrassing?) — or perhaps his editor thought so. After all, he was writing for entertainment, not technical detail. We may never know.
 


 

This excerpt is from “The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’ Advocate”  Wed. September 30, 1896

Arrival of The Spray

“From Boston to Boston” Captain Slocum Alone. An Adventurous Mariner. Long and Interesting Voyage.

Considerable excitement was created along the harbour-side yesterday when it became. known that Captain Slocum had arrived with the yacht Spray from Boston.

Shortly after 6 am yesterday morning the little vessel was seen making for the harbour, and was subsequently boarded by Pilot Cumming. The Government tug Ganymede was passing at the time, and Captain Beeston at once put a line aboard and towed the little vessel to the quarantine buoy, where she was made fast awaiting the arrival of the health officer. As soon as the vessel was cleared by the latter gentleman, Captain Slocum received a visit from the American Consul, the harbour master, and the secretary of the Marine Board, after which he went ashore and breakfasted with Pilot Cumming. During the day the vessel was visited by a considerable number of  people, among whom were the Mayor and Alderman G.P. Lock.

Captain Slocum originally intended to visit Brisbane, but on arrival off Cape Moreton decided to come on south. Captain Slocum has been credited with not being communicative or knowing whether he was going north or south, and in view of statements which have appeared, it will be well to give his story in his own words. He says: “I arrived off the Cape Moreton light on the Saturday evening, the wind being light and a current setting south. On signaling, the pilot steamer came out, but instead of coming down, he remained a long distance away and hailed me: I could hear him well enough, but my voice, having had little or no use during my 14 months’ voyage probably would not reach the steamer. Had the vessel come within easy speaking distance I should have been glad enough to talk and still more pleased to get a pull inside. Anyway, the steamer finding I was not in distress went away, and I continued my voyage.” From Cape Moreton the vessel was worked down the coast, being reported at Seal Rocks, where she fell in with a strong southerly gale, which compelled the captain to make on and off the land. Sunday was spent dodging under the lee of Cape Hawke, and on Monday a slant was obtained which carried the vessel down to Knobbys, which was sighted at 12 pm on Monday. Having decided to go on to Sydney, Captain Slocum kept the vessel on her course, and by 2:30 am yesterday morning was halfway between Broken Bay and Newcastle, when a southerly ‘buster’ compelled him to run back to Newcastle, where the vessel, as already stated, arrived at 6:30 am yesterday.

From here the Spray proceeds to Sydney, and thence round the Leeuwin to Mauritius, and home via the Cape of Good Hope. This portion of the voyage, however, will not be undertaken until the equinox has passed, December and January being the most suitable months for the route described.

The Spray is a vessel of about 13 tons, dandy rigged, and is 40 ft in length, 14 ft beam, and 4 ft 4 in in depth. She is built of white oak, frames pine planking, and sugar-pine decks, with a square stem and clipper bow. About five tons of concrete ballast is carried, the ballast being floored over, in addition to which the large water supply acts in a considerable degree as ballast: and as showing how well the yacht is provided in this respect it may be mentioned that there is still on board a cask of water shipped at Yarmouth (Nova Scotia). The cabin is aft, and provides a fair amount of room; a monkey deck fore and aft providing sufficient height for a man to stand upright. In the fore part of the vessel a stove is provided, and in bad weather, the whole can be battened down, and made thoroughly secure.

With regard to the voyage, Captain Slocum says: “I do not feel the loneliness whatever. I have my books, and find I can enjoy Burns, Stevenson, and other of my favourite authors. The voyage in itself gives me experiences that no money could purchase. There are times, of course, when an additional pair of hands would be an advantage; but, so far, I have had no more anxiety, nor have I lost more sleep, than I should have done on an ordinary voyage as master of a large vessel. I have never had to leave the vessel to obtain sleep, as I could always keep her steadily on her course by lashing the wheel in a certain way. By this means I could sleep at night and still continue the voyage. In bad weather I always take the precaution to reduce sail to such an extent that a heavy squall could not capsize her, but being constantly in touch with the whole matter, I, by a sort of instinct, awaken immediately an unusual motion occurs.

Taking the voyage all round, the vessel has averaged about 100 miles a day, and the passage of 29 days from Boston to Gibraltar is as good and better than made by many large sailing vessels. I have no chronometer on board, and during the voyage I have only taken one lunar observation and that was while in the vicinity of the Marquesas.” 

Captain Slocum is a native of Wilmot, Nova Scotia, and is 51 years of age. A tall, pleasant-featured man, with kindly blue eyes, and a countenance expressive of determination, he suggests himself as being a man to carry out a project once formed. He was here 24 years ago in a barque called the Aymar, and since then has been all over the world in various commands, at one time having had command of a Chilean gunboat.

Altogether a chat with Captain Slocum is full of interest, and whatever may be said of the undertaking most people will admit that it would be a dark day for the Anglo-Saxon race when the pluck and endurance shown by the captain of the Spray ceases to be a leading characteristic of our race. (sic!)

Some detail has been edited out as being information covered in “Sailing Alone Around the World” Geoff - webmaster

 


 

This excerpt is from “The Sydney Morning Herald”  9 October , 1896

ARRIVAL OF THE YAWL SPRAY.

INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN SLOCUM.

Last night, a Herald reporter boarded the little Spray, upon which Captain Slocum has made his extraordinary and now well-known voyages. The Spray arrived in Sydney harbour yesterday afternoon from Newcastle, and her captain selected one of the most secluded parts of the port for an anchorage—North Harbour. Although during the holidays this locality is a popular pleasure resort, it has no attractive features at other times, and last night being particularly dark, the spot where Spray lay seemed uninviting in the extreme.

The little boat too, displayed no riding light, and it seemed doubtful whether the captain had not sought a refuge for the night elsewhere when the reporter boarded the boat. However, it was found that Captain Slocum was in the cabin of his yawl and was asleep, or rather had just awakened out of a sleep. “Hello,” he said, “Who’s there?” and when he was informed of the nature of the visit that was to be paid him he said “ Come down. I feel better now. I thought when I first came in that I wouldn’t be able to see any reporters, but I think I am getting all right now.”

What’s the matter, Captain?”

“It’s my head. When I was up in Newcastle a fellow threw a heaving line that just caught me on the head, and I thought I was stranded. I feel all right now, however.”

Captain Slocum is an unpretentious man in both his style of address and his appearance, and certainly not a man who would be suspected of a desire to traverse the ocean alone. It was not an unexpected thing altogether to hear him add to what he had said, “You know, this is just the sort of place I like, and I’m glad I came here. Soon after I got inside the Heads the police came down. They wanted certain information.”
”What information, Captain?”

“ Well, I don’t care about stating it publicly. They wanted certain information, which of course I gave.”

“And what induced you to travel alone?” “Because my wife wouldn’t come with me. She made the trip with me from Brazil to New York, and afterwards said she was glad she had made it, but did not seem inclined to make a similar trip again. So I started myself.”

“ And is no one else interested in your trip?”

“Not directly. The New York World people told me that they would give me certain remuneration for anything of interest which I could send them, but I decided to make the voyage before that. Of course, I am going to give an account of it afterwards, but that has nothing to do with my first idea to start out.”

Naturally the question suggested itself that a man travelling for days on the ocean without hearing any sound of human voice or perceiving any indication of human life would feel lonely.

“No, I didn’t feel lonely,” said Captain Slocum: “but I quite realized that I was alone, and for the first week or so I felt odd. The first time I was down forehead I used to sing out to Garfield. That is my son. He was with me on the trip from Brazil to New York, and I had the habit of calling him. After I started out by myself I continued to call him. Sometimes, too, I used to sing out “Eight bells”; but I have got over that now. Just to pass the time I sometimes sing. But you have lots to do. You would not believe all there is to do when you’re out by yourself. One always looks ahead, trying to see something, and besides, you can pass the time by wondering how you can put your story into shape when the trip is over.”

“And in taking the observations?”

“As a general thing, dead reckoning is not always to be relied upon as approximate, but it is extraordinary the luck I have had in making the landfalls. My chronometers have not always been as true as the landfalls. For instance, I went from Juan Fernandez to the Marquesas, a trip of 43 days. That was done by dead reckoning, and when I was within 30 miles of the destination the lunar observations showed that I was only five miles out. That was very remarkable in a trip of 43 days. I will tell you something that has not probably been published before. From Brazil to New York, when my wife and two sons were on board, we made 108 knots a day for 53 days. That was in 1889. I felt then for the first time what a delicious thing it was to be away from sailors.”

The Captain explained that he might remain in Sydney for a month. Then he is going around, as he states, “the south of Australia” and across the Indian Ocean. He has not decided whether he will go through the Red Sea or around the Cape of Good Hope.

Captain Slocum relates how, after having been at sea by himself, he was delighted to hear the singing of some Samoan girls who were at the time pulling in a boat. In the distance, he said, it seemed delicious, and the most fascinating words he had ever heard.

Arrangements have been made for attending a welcome to Captain Slocum this afternoon. The steamer Minerva will leave the floating jetty, Circular Quay at 2.30 pm to convey the reception committee and others to the rendezvous, where they will be joined by the yachts and smaller boats.


Article in the Sydney Morning Herald 9 October , 1896. NOTE: In “Sailing Alone Around the World” Slocum gives his arrival in Sydney as October 10, but this article clearly indicates that in fact he arrived October 8.

 

 

Slocum in Sydney in 1896 - more detail.

The extent of written material on Slocum’s life and sailing history available in Australia has been generally limited to his book. But the local newspapers have a wealth of first hand, blow by blow detail about his visit in 1896.

On Slocum’s arrival in Sydney on 10 October, he was met by the NSW Police and interviewed at length. He omits most detail of this incident in his book, ending with “Some one said (the police) came to arrest me, and — well, let it go at that.”

But he also says that the police “gathered data from an old scrap book of mine, which seemed to interest them.”  The police were interested in events some 13 years earlier on board Slocum’s ship Northern Light, where one of his old crew members, Henry Slater, had been chained and locked up for 53 days for inciting violent mutiny. Slater was a malicious ex-convict, who was so obsessed by the event that he invented a version to suit his own ends, and publicly threatened Joshua’s life several times. When he learned of Slocum’s arrival in Newcastle, he went to the Sydney Daily Telegraph and gave an interview full of lies and distortions. As it does even today, the Telegraph went sensational, and kept up a barrage of dirty press against Slocum whom most other publishers viewed as a hero.

Slocum did not shy from the showdown with Slater, and during several weeks, the Sydney population became strongly divided for and against Slocum, mostly due to the Telegraph’s support of Slater’s story (despite all evidence from witnesses and a court case ruling in the US clearing Slocum and dismissing Slater’s version as a fabrication), and partly due to Slocum’s apparent unwillingness to provide all information on the matter.  Finally, Slater was ordered by a magistrate to “keep the peace for 6 months, on a bond of 80 pounds”, and in a short time the matter died away. It does appear that old Josh may have overstepped it a bit with Slater, but this happened at a time when his wife Virginia and his children were on board, and the crew were a motley mix of ex-cons, drunkards and lay-abouts. Most good seamen, sensing the end of the age of sail, had “gone west”, leaving the dregs for crew.

There were several incidents where Josh was actually hissed and booed by Sydney residents, obviously those who had sided with Slater.

In the end, Sydney took Joshua to their hearts. He had continued throughout the whole dirty episode to reach out and make friends, and some of his friends were people in high places, like Mark Foy, of Mark Foy’s department store, who gave him a new set of sails.

Now here are some twists—at the magistrate’s hearing, the Clerk of the Court was Josh’s brother-in-law, G W Walker. And the NSW Supreme Court is now located in the old Mark Foy’s (department store) building.   
 

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