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Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Cape Town to St. Helena

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

With the Spray in Alfred dry-dock and a free railway pass in his pocket, Slocum heads inland, making a journey to Kimberley, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. He meets President Krüger, a confirmed believer in the flat-earth hypothesis. Judge Beyers introduces Slocum to Krüger, but makes the mistake of saying he is sailing “round the world”.

“Impossible,” says Krüger angrily; you mean “in the world.”

Slocum checks on the Spray and finds all is well; then he visits Dr. Gill, astronomer royal, at the Cape Observatory. Gill organises a lecture about the voyage which is so well attended that Slocum earns enough money to cover his expenses both during his extended stay in South Africa and the voyage home. In fact Slocum spends three months in South Africa; this is longer than the fastest non-stop solo sailors of today take for the entire voyage.

It’s 26Mar1898 before Slocum is towed out to the offing by the tug Tigre where the spray wallows in a heaving sea without wind for more than a day. It’s a good view:

The light morning breeze, which scantily filled her sails when the tug let go the tow-line, soon died away altogether, and left her riding over a heavy swell, in full view of Table Mountain and the high peaks of the Cape of good Hope. For a while the grand scenery served to relieve the monotony. One of the old circumnavigators (Sir Francis Drake I think), when her first saw this magnificent pile, sang, “‘t is the fairest thing and the grandest cape I’ve seen in the whole circumference of the earth.”

On the second day, the swell shortens; Slocum interprets this, correctly, as meaning that a wind is on the way. He gets under sail and rapidly pulls away from the cape. Once more the pilot of the Pinta is at the helm and Slocum is able to spend long days avidly reading the books he picked up at Cape Town.

Fifteen days later, on 11Apr1898, Slocum is called on deck by the quack of a booby:

Very early that morning I was awakened by that rare bird, the booby, with its harsh quack, which I recognised at once as a call to go on deck; it was as much as to say, “Skipper, there’s land in sight.” I  tumbled out quickly and, sure enough, away ahead in the dim twilight, about twenty miles off, was St. Helena.

The sections of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here conclude Chapter XVIII 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


Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Port Natal to Cape Town

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

Slocum sails from Port Natal [Durban] on 14Dec1897. The passage to Cape Town is about 800 miles. When the Spray is at her best it would take Slocum about one week to cover this distance; however, he expects the weather to be rough even though he has waited and waited for the southern summer to develop. His expectations are met:

On Christmas, 1897, I came to the pitch of the cape. On this day the Spray was trying to stand on her head, and she gave me every reason to believe that she would accomplish the feat before night. she began very early in the morning to pitch and toss about in a most unusual manner¹, and I have to record that, while I was at the end of the bowsprit reefing the jib, she ducked me under water three times for a Christmas box.

A large English steamer passing ran up the signal, “Wishing you a Merry Christmas.” I think the captain was a humorist; his own ship was throwing her propeller out of water.

Two days later the Spray is passing Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of the African continent, 13 days from Port Natal and with 120 miles still to cover. The winds are more moderate now, but there is still one more gale to come. He shelters in Simons Bay [False Bay] until the wind slackens then he beats the Spray around the Cape of Good Hope, accurately named by early Portuguese navigators as the “Cape of Storms.”

Thirty-five nautical miles later, the Spray runs into calm water in the shelter of Table Mountain. Slocum is in reflective mood; despite sailing alone for so long he anchors in the bay, “clear of the bustle of commerce”, and takes a day to contemplate his achievement of negotiating both Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope single-handed.

The next day, he sails the Spray into dry dock where she remains for three months. Slocum does not record the date of his arrival at Cape Town; perhaps it was two or three days after passing Cape Agulhas, which would make it 29Dec or 30Dec1897.

The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here opens Chapter XVIII of Sailing Alone Around the World, and this post is a trailer for the adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:


1. To simulate pitching and tossing “in a most unusual manner”, I combined animations on all three axes by specifying AnimatedPitch, AnimatedRoll, and AnimatedYaw in the TourMaker Input File for this section of the passage.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

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