The Slocum Spray Society

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About Us

Early History

The Slocum Spray Society of Australia Inc. (SSSA) was formed in 1995 with the main objectives being to continue the adventuresome spirit of Joshua Slocum and to promote the Spray design as the ultimate cruising boat.

The Australian Society was not affiliated with either the Joshua Slocum Society International, Inc. or any other similar organisation, although we did enjoy sharing our experiences and information.

Members in the Slocum Spray Society of Australia were spread across all states and territories of Australia, as well as overseas. The range of Spray vessels covered by the SSSA was from 22' trailerables to 50' plus and covers the entire range of recognised building materials - timber, steel, GRP. 

The SSSA history actually began in 1993 when, due to the uncanny popularity of Sprays on Lake Macquarie (north of Sydney), the ten Spray owners there met on a regular social basis. But when a Sydney Spray visitor came to the Lake, he thought he was in heaven because wherever he ventured on Lake Macquarie he found yet another Spray. So in 1995 the Slocum Spray Society of Australia was formed and in the same year held the inaugural Spray Regatta out of Lake Macquarie Yacht Club (at Belmont, south of Newcastle). To the best of our knowledge, this was the only such race of Sprays worldwide. It's a rather daunting sight in itself to witness a fleet of Sprays approach the starting line in racing mode, but the old girls attract a lot of attention from local yachties and other interested enthusiasts. The Society was incorporated in September 2001. During 2003 most of the Lake Macquarie based Sprays were sold away from the Lake. On 15 May 2004, the Lake Macquarie Committee resigned to allow the election of a new Committee based on Moreton Bay, Queensland, where there were a large number of Sprays.

Unfortunately, at the Annual General Meeting in June 2012 no member came forward to volunteer in any of the Committee positions.  A vote was then held with all members as to the future of the Society, following which the decision was made to un-incorporate and disband the Society. This was officially completed in August 2012.

However, it is my wish that the aims of the SSSA do not just fade away.  Thus the Slocum Spray Society, as a virtual "club" will continue - providing members with a forum, a locus, a source, and a shop-front.

Geoff Robertson

 For more information, please e-mail me (see home page)


Is the Spray a good cruising boat?

Much uninformed, some malicious, comment about the Spray might dismay people interested in the Spray design as a suitable cruising boat.  Let's put a few things into perspective.

You might hear or read that the Spray is slow. Well - duh! - the Spray design is a classic heavy-displacement sailing vessel. The basis for the Roberts Spray design was Joshua Slocum's Spray, a modified New England "sword fisherman out of Noank"1 operating in the 19th century, during the days of sail when all but the clipper ships were slow. This did not make them unseaworthy - quite the contrary. Centuries, nay thousands of years of experience of using the wind for water transport had gone into sailing vessels by the time Joshua Slocum sailed the Spray itself. The boat builders of that time knew how to build vessels so that they could withstand bad weather out at sea. Slocum himself had built several boats before Spray - a steamer in Luzon in the Philippines, and the 35-foot Liberdade, a junk-rigged sailing canoe which he sailed 5510 nautical miles from Brazil to Boston with his family on board after his ship Aquidneck had foundered.

In those days there was no way to avoid storms as there was no weather forecasting, apart from "red sky at night...". Modern boats have a degree of risk built into them which assumes that electronic navigation, reliable engines, good sails, and other marine safety facilities are in use aboard. The idea is that if you lose your modern boat at sea these days, it is your fault for being out there when you should have known better.  The old-fashioned Spray types will invariably get you home. It is usually (in the history of Roberts Sprays at least) the crew who give out before the boat - unless it is due to poor maintenance or absolute stupidity. 

Properly set up, Sprays will sail at an adequate speed, given that the wind blows. Most cruising boats of any design motor a lot, some spend more time motoring than sailing.  Captain Cook's Endeavour sailed at about 4 knots top speed with a good wind. That didn't stop him achieving amazing voyages.  If you read Joshua Slocum's book "Sailing Alone Around the World" you might notice some remarkable times. For example, from Thursday Island in Torres Strait to Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean is 2672 nautical miles. The old barge-like Spray, with heavy canvas sails, and no engine, completed the distance non-stop in 23 days. That's an average of 116 NM per day, or 4.8 knots! Sometimes the wind blows, sometimes not - sometimes with, sometimes against..... Many modern crews can only pray for sailing averages like that! A Roberts version Spray, properly set up, with a reasonably skilled sailor should easily match that sort of passage time in the trades - without the motor. Keep in mind that Slocum set up Spray to sail the trades; down-hill sailing as it were, a standard tactic in the days of sailing ships that did not go to windward at all well.  So if someone says that the Spray is a horrible sailer to windward, duh! again. In a Spray, if you want to sail to weather with any speed, you set the motor on idle or just a bit over, and you can point as high as those speedier yachts (if they're not using their motors too). And you will be far more comfortable than them.

Another feature of heavy displacement boats that the stupid critics ignore is their ability to handle a blow if (and no doubt when) you get caught out. Sprays do have excellent form-stability, which allows them to stand up when all hell breaks loose, instead of flopping over and flinging the crew all over the place.  There has been only one recorded case of a Spray rolling 360 degrees,3 and there have been hundreds of Sprays cruising all oceans, including the Antarctic and the Arctic.  Indeed, an exact Spray replica was tested by having its mast pulled flat to the water, and when released, righted itself.2 Another classic heavy-displacement seaworthy design is the Colin Archer double-ender. Designed to stand station in the North Atlantic while shepherding Norwegian fishing fleets, the design is no faster than the Spray, yet is renowned and admired in models such as the Westsail 32, and John Hanna's Tahiti ketch.

Another criticism is that the Roberts Sprays are not real Sprays, and should not be compared with Slocum's boat.  If you ever see a so-called Spray replica (built from the lines in Slocum's book), you will note the underwater shape is virtually identical to Roberts' designs. When Roberts designed the Spray 40, he drew out the stem to reduce the tendency to pound into a head sea, and extended the run aft to allow for a better flow, and altered the beam to streamline the vessel, thereby lengthening the boat from 36 feet to 40 feet. Sure, he created a new version of the Spray - but kept the main characteristics. You can tell a Herreschoff 28 hull and a H36 and a H42 hull because they are just scaled versions of the original. So Roberts' Spray designs are scaled and thus maintain the same heavy displacement sea-kindly characteristics.

If you are really interested in a Spray to purchase, please don't ask for advice on the forums. You will attract every sort of uninformed opinion from people who like to see their name, and words in print - and who never seem to check the facts. Few of these critics, if any have seen a Spray, and fewer ever sailed on one. Most comment is either conjecture eg - "it has a wide beam, thus it cannot be self-righting" - see footnote 3, or hearsay "my friend had had a friend who owned a Spray and he had to motor everywhere". 

If you really want the truth, please ask someone who has built, owned and/or sailed a Spray.  E-mail me with your query and I'll pass it to a Spray owner who knows the answer. 

If you have received some stupid opinion from a forum, or a bar-room yacht designer, e-mail me and I will use facts and real experience to refute the opinion. The Bruce Roberts Spray design has been proven in use since 1974, with hundreds sailing the world's oceans, many with just a 2-person crew.

Just keep in mind - if you buy a Spray, you intend to proceed at a leisurely pace. You may arrive a bit behind the fleet - but you will arrive safe and sound nonetheless.

1. "Capt. Joshua Slocum", Victor Slocum, Sheridan House, 1993  p. 274.  Josh's son Victor states that Spray, on a smaller scale, resembled Amundsen's Gjoa which Amundsen took through the Northwest Passage.

2. "Capt. Joshua Slocum" p 280.

3. In 1999, Salibo, a Roberts Spray 40, was rolled by a rogue wave near the Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian ocean during a storm where winds were gusting to 80 knots. The yacht righted itself but the sails had been torn away, the life raft lost and the rudder torn off as well. Otherwise Salibo was still seaworthy, but the wife of the two-person crew was badly injured and they had to abandon the boat after being picked up by a freighter. Some months later the boat was towed to the Seychelles, still afloat, dry inside despite having a gaping hole in the deck at the bow where the forestay was ripped out by the freighter during the rescue (the solar panels kept the batteries topped up and the bilge pumps working). There was several inches of guano on deck and the interior was a mess, but the engine worked (the crew had closed all cocks). They made some quick repairs and sailed to South Africa for a refit.

(Go to Group S, Page 3)  
The burgee incorporates the checkers of the house flag of the last commercial sailing outfit that employed Joshua Slocum, and which was used as the burgee of the Joshua Slocum Society International.

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