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thinking outside the tank

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Keeling Cocos to Rodriguez Island

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

After five weeks at the Keeling Cocos islands Slocum points the Spray in the direction of Rodriguez Island. On this course the wind and the seas are abeam which makes for an uncomfortable voyage; the yawl rolls unpleasantly and Slocum is drenched when he ventures on deck; yet the Spray holds her course faithfully.

A discrepancy appears between Slocum’s assessment of his position by mental calculation and what the log is telling him. He trails a four-bladed rotator which gives him a measure of the Spray‘s speed through the water. After 15 days the log  differs from his own estimated position by 150 miles. Distrusting the instrument, and knowing his ship well, he “kept an eye lifting for land.”

He notices a stationary patch of cloud beyond the horizon while the clouds of the trade-wind float on their way. He says: “this was a sign of something”; that something, of course, being an island with the cloud forming above its mountains. Sure enough, as he sails on, the dark outline of Rodriguez Island appears ahead.

Hauling in the log, he finds that two of its impeller blades are bent out of shape, probably crushed by a shark; this explains the discrepancy and Slocum’s fine judgement is vindicated once again.

He arrives on the windward side of Rodriguez which is not very welcoming; he hauls around to the leeward side of the island where a pilot comes out to the Spray to guide her through the narrow channel between coral reefs that leads to the inner harbour of Port Mathurin, the village that is the capital of the island.

Slocum has looked forward with relish to this land of plenty and a return to relative civilisation:

For many days I had studied the charts and counted the time of my arrival at this spot, as one might his entrance to the Islands of the Blessed, looking upon it as the terminus of the last long run, made irksome by the want of many things which, from this time on, I could keep well supplied.

On the first evening ashore, in the land of napkins and cut glass, I saw before me still the ghosts of hempen towels and of mugs with handles knocked off. Instead of tossing on the sea, however, as I might have been, here was I in a bright hall, surrounded by sparkling wit, and dining with the governor of the island!

Slocum stays on Rodriguez for eight days, replenishing his supplies with, among other items, sweet potatoes and pomegranates. It’s still too soon to head for the Cape of Good Hope, so the next step of the voyage is the short hop to Mauritius…


The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here concludes Chapter XVI 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

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

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