thinking outside the tank

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Cape Turn to Famine Reach

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Follow Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World at:

In the violent winds off the Pacific shore of Tierra del Fuego the Spray‘s sails were torn to ribbons, so Slocum takes the opportunity to repair them in his snug cove at Cape Turn in Cockburn Channel. He is just wondering why no trees grow on the shoreline when an almighty williwaw tears down the mountainside and pushes the Spray out into the channel. At this time Slocum has two anchors down and the sudden wind drags them both. The absence of trees is fully explained:

Great Boreas! A tree would need to be all roots to hold on against such a furious wind.

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Fortunately, at this corner where the Cockburn Channel becomes the Magdalena Channel there is a wide stretch of water and Slocum has enough time to raise the anchors and get under way.

This pattern is repeated the following day; he is settling into sail-making again and a williwaw plucks the boat and her anchor away from the shore. Slocum sails on and later that day he rejoins the Strait of Magellan opposite Cape Froward and shapes his course for St. Nicholas Bay – where he last anchored on 19Feb.

As the Spray approaches the bay, a sheet on the stay-sail gives way; Slocum goes forward to investigate and it’s only when he’s up in the bow that he sees cliffs ahead and breakers very close by. He dashes back to the helm and swings away. If it had not been for the rigging failure he would surely have struck ground.

He comes to anchor in the bay and again the sloop is tossed about by the wind and carried away. The wind is from the south-west, so the Spray is being pushed relentlessly back in the direction of Punta Arenas. She rounds the headland, turning north, and finds calm water in the lee of the mountains. By this time Slocum is quite weary.

He starts paying out the anchor, thinking he has 8 fathoms depth beneath him, but yet another williwaw knocks him down and pushes him to deeper water. Slocum thinks the answer is rapidly to pay out more anchor cable, in an attempt to find the bottom and hold the yacht on station, but 50 fathoms are paid out as the sloop is pushed still further into the deeper waters of Famine Reach, the name of this section of the Strait.

In this situation, Slocum must retrieve the anchor and spends the night at the windlass heaving away and singing old sailing songs. He refers to his days as master of a ship:

On the little crab-windlass I worked the rest of the night, thinking how much easier it was for me when I could say, “Do that thing or the other,” than to do it myself.

By daylight, the anchor is retrieved but the Spray is drifting north towards Punta Arenas; Slocum can see ships at anchor in the distance. If it had not been for a change of the wind to the north-east, Slocum would probably have returned to the port in order to replace the Spray‘s sails; but this new wind is favourable to a second attempt to reach the Pacific, so Slocum comes about and heads further into the Strait of Magellan: “to traverse a second time the second half of my first course through the strait.”

This section of Joshua Slocum’s journey concludes Chapter VIII of Sailing Alone Around the World, an adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you like this presentation, then you may also enjoy Cook’s first voyage round the world at:


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