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thinking outside the tank

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Cooktown to Thursday Island

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Follow Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World at: http://www.hazelhurst.net/Slocum

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Slocum sails from Cooktown on 06Jun1897 and by the evening of the 7th the Spray is at anchor near the Claremont Islands. Apart from in harbour at Port Denison and Cooktown, this is the only time Slocum anchors in the Barrier Reef Channel. By the next evening he wishes it isn’t. The Spray is sailing into the night at full speed ahead and passes the light-ship at the southern end of ‘m’ reef.¹ He expects there to be a beacon light at the north point; if there is one he doesn’t see it and the Spray strikes the reef. The next swell carrier her safely over but not before Slocum sees the ugly sharp coral rocks and realises just how lucky he is.

Keeping further out to sea now, heeding the advice to keep clear of the residents of Cape Grenville,  Slocum passes outside all of the islands including Home Island off the tip of the cape itself. He squares away westward in the direction of Sunday Island and shortens sail as he passes it; he doesn’t want to reach Bird Island before daylight — that island group is low-lying and surrounded by navigational hazards. On the morning of the 9th Bird Island is only 2.5 miles ahead, so he was lucky again that the current carrying him along was not stronger.

He spends the rest of the day sailing from Bird Island to Cape York, navigating Albany Pass, between mainland Australia and York Island, “as the sun drew low in the west over the hills of Australia.”

He anchors in a cove near the Tawara, an American built and skippered pear-fisher. Next day, he spends a pleasant few hours with the crew of Tawara and with the Jardine family from nearby Somerset. It turns out that Mrs. Jardine is cousin to Faamu-Sami, princess of Samoa and daughter of King Malietoa, who had visited the Spray at Apia.

From this cove, Slocum makes the short trip into the Torres Strait across to Thursday Island. He finds that celebrations are planned for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee on 22Jun1897, and doesn’t need much persuading to extend his visit here.


The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here continues Chapter XV of Sailing Alone Around the World, and this post is a trailer for the adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:  http://www.hazelhurst.net/Slocum

Notes

1. On the evening of 08Jun1897, the Spray struck a reef and luckily there was enough water for the next swell to carry her over it. Slocum identifies this as ‘M Reef’; however, a search of the web delivers no information about the location of this hazard. I didn’t want to use a random reef in the animation so I had to dig further until I found an online version of a chart compiled from mid-19th century surveys by the Great Britain Hydrographic Department. The chart is made available by the National Library of Australia.

British Hydrographic Department chart showing the reefs of the Barrier Reef Channel

By close examination of the chart, I was able to find the identification letters of the significant reefs that skirt the Barrier Reef Channel. I couldn’t find all of them but at least it was clear which is ‘m’ reef.

To help anybody else who is looking for reefs in the Barrier Reef Channel using their identification letter, I have plotted them in Google Earth and kept their labels visible throughout the animation.

2. This chapter of Slocum’s book is one in which a lot of ground is covered with relatively few words. I like the animation of the model Spray to coincide with the narrative so, at times, it is necessary to move the model to a new location without accompanying voice-over. This can seem like an awkward silence and to overcome it I use two techniques:

  • The background sound effect of water lapping against the hull; if nothing else this helps to distract sufferers of tinnitus from their condition, and it does seem to work.
  • Using the ‘Show’ directive of TourMaker, I pop up labels that identify significant landmarks like capes, islands, and bays.

3. I am using an unabridged version of Sailing Alone Around the World. There are a few places where I have chosen not to speak the words that Slocum wrote as they are offensive to the modern ear. This chapter includes one such passage in which he describes the appearance of the men and women who travelled over to Thursday Island for the jubilee celebrations.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

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