thinking outside the tank

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Fortescue Bay to Langara Cove

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Follow Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World at:, where I have just added the concluding section of Chapter IX in which Joshua Slocum goes aboard the steamship Columbia in Fortescue Bay, coming away with his arms full of provisions.

When it falls calm the next day he is surrounded by Fuegians in their canoes as he drifts uncontrollably towards Little Bonet island. Rifle shots are once more required to persuade the marauders to keep their distance.

The wind picks up and he escapes, and sails on in the growing darkness to Borgia Bay:

I would now, if I could, describe the moonlit scene on the strait at midnight after I had cleared the savages and Bonet Island. A heavy cloud-bank that had swept across the sky then cleared away, and the night became suddenly as light as day, or nearly so. A high mountain was mirrored in the channel ahead, and the Spray sailing along with her shadow was as two sloops on the sea.

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At Borgia Bay Slocum was alone. He becomes somewhat dejected by the sight of a lonely grave and the many boards and marks erected by the crew of passing ships – some of the names he recognises as those of former colleagues, men who are no longer.

Spirits are raised the next day when Slocum discovers large quantities of tallow in Langara Cove, originating from some unidentified wreck; it’s surprising what power rendered beef fat can have on a man’s outlook. Imagine how he felt on also discovering a barrel of wine embedded in the kelp. He works hard all day to get as many casks as he can aboard the sloop, and even man-handles large lumps of tallow that no longer have a cask around them.

Then, on the next day, he comes across another cove with yet more tallow. Working through rain and snow he packs his ship with the cargo:

I was happy then in the prospect of doing good business farther along on the voyage, for the habits of an old trader would come to the surface.

The US Hydrographic Office published the second edition of The west coast of South America, including Magellan Strait, Tierra del Fuego, and the outlying islands in the year 1896, and as a master mariner Slocum may have been familiar with the first edition. The volume includes the following references to Fortescue Bay, which explains why the Columbia anchored there and, perhaps, why there was a tribe of Fuegians settled in the area:

In winter a vessel should leave Sandy Point some hours before daylight to ensure making Fortescue Bay the same evening. It will be well to have daylight before getting as far as Georgia Reef…

Caution: when proceeding to the Pacific, vessels should not attempt to clear the strait in one day from Fortescue Bay, except full-powered steamers…

The best anchorages for large vessels are at Fortescue Bay, Borgia Bay, Field Anchorage, and Port Tamar.

Clearly, the Straits of Magellan are to be taken seriously and every effort should made to avoid navigating at night. Fortescue Bay is one of the principal safe anchorages on a passage through the strait in either direction.

This section of Joshua Slocum’s journey concludes Chapter IX of Sailing Alone Around the World, and this post is a trailer for the adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

You might also enjoy Cook’s first voyage round the world at:


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