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Joshua Slocum – Sailing Alone Around the World

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Written by netkingcol

September 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: St. Roque to Grenada

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

Slocum is very sensitive to changes in the feel of the Spray; new sounds, new rhythms, all convey important information to him. On 10May1898, he hears and feels the extra ripples, remembered from earlier voyages, created by the Guiana Current which sweeps around Cape St. Roque and runs at 2 miles per hour along the northern coast of South America all the way to Trinidad. For several days in succession he makes one hundred and eighty miles per day.

War with Spain has broken out. Cuba and the surrounding Caribbean is one of the principal theatres. There were some in Cape Town who warned him:

“The Spaniard will get you! The Spaniard will get you!” To all this I could only say that, even so, he would not get much.

Near the mouth of the Amazon the Spray is overhauled by the warship Oregon. She shows the flags “C B T” which mean: “Are there any men-of-war about?” to which Slocum replies: “No,” and adds for our benefit: “I had not been looking for any.”

The Spray passes Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana, and on the grey morning of 17May1898 he sees the dreary Devil’s Island on the lee bow.

On 18May1898 Slocum sees Polaris, the north star, for the first time in three years as the Spray reaches latitude 7° 13’N.

The island of Tobago bears west by north, distance twenty-two miles on the evening of 20May1898. It’s many years since Slocum has been this way and unknown to him, because his chart of the West Indies was eaten by the goat he had on board from St. Helena to Ascension, there is a new lighthouse at Galera Point on Trinidad. As he sails along the north coast of Tobago he thinks he sees waves breaking on a reef. He throws the sloop offshore but continues to see the white tops of the waves wherever he goes. It seems that no matter which way he steers the reef is all about him. Finally, as the Spray is lifted slightly higher on a wave, the realisation dawns that he is seeing the light from Trinidad playing rhythmically on the waves.

Taking no risks, he tacks back and forth for the rest of the night and then heads out for Grenada, seventy miles to the north-west. He anchors in St. George roads at midnight on 22May1898 and sails into the inner harbour the following morning. The voyage from Cape Town to Grenada has taken forty-two days.

The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here opens Chapter XX 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: Cape Town to St. Helena

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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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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

Captain Cook’s First Voyage Round The World

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The following slideshow and image gallery show screenshots taken from Captain Cook’s First Voyage Round The World, a presentation of Cook’s journal containing more than 15 hours of animation and audio.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To view the presentation, point your web browser to and install the Google Earth plug-in if you don’t already have it installed.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

You might also like:

If you enjoyed Cook’s voyage, you might also like Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, a similar virtual re-enactment of a famous sea voyage by the first single-handed circumnavigator; this presentation is still under construction.


Captain Cook in Google Earth: Batavia to Cape Town

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Endeavour sailed from Batavia on 27Dec1770. It was slow progress at first and they had to anchor the ship frequently to avoid losing ground against contrary tides and currents.

In Sunda Strait, the ship sailed within 3 miles of the island of Krakatoa, which must have had a very different appearance in January, 1771, than it did after its violent eruption in 1883.

Cook stayed over a week anchored off Prince’s Island, at the south-east end of the strait, to stock up on wood, water, and food before making the journey across the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope. They set sail on Tuesday, 15Jan1771 and progress was still slow owing to light and variable winds.

(See my previous post about the deaths of 23 members of the crew from dysentery)

Once she was in the south-east trade winds, Endeavour started to cover between 100 and 150 miles per day, arriving rather abruptly, and surprisingly, off the African coast on Tuesday, 05Mar1771:

In the evening some people thought they saw the appearance  of land to the Northward; but this appear’d so improbable that I, who was not on deck at this time, was not acquainted with it until dark, when I order’d them to sound, but found no ground with 80 fathoms, upon which we concluded that no land was near. But daylight in the morning proved this to be a mistake by shewing us the land at the distance of 2 Leagues off (about 6 miles).

Cook began to appreciate the strength of the currents that had carried Endeavour to the west and the south of her position determined by dead-reckoning. Remember that Cook did not yet have access to one of John Harrison’s chronometers and the determination of longitude was still a tricky business (though Cook was one of the most meticulous observers). On Wednesday, 13th Cook wrote in his journal:

Latitude observed 34 degrees 15 minutes South; Longitude in, by our reckoning, corrected by the last observation, 341 degrees 7 minutes West, or 18 degrees 53 minutes East from Greenwich, by which the Cape lies in 34 degrees 25 minutes South Latitude, and 19 degrees 1 minute East Longitude from Greenwich, which nearly agrees with the observations made at the Cape Town by Messrs. Mason and Dixon in 1761; a proof that our observations have been well made, and that as such they may always be depended upon to a surprizing degree of accuracy. If we had had no such guide we should have found an error of 10 degrees 13 minutes of Longitude, or perhaps more, to the East, such an effect the current must have had upon the ship.

I assume that the men Cook refers to were the British experts Charles Mason (astronomer) and Jeremiah Dixon (surveyor) who were commissioned in 1763 to resolve the border dispute between the British colonies of: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia. They had been in Africa because, like Cook, they were despatched on a mission to observe a transit of Venus (the 1761 transit). They never reached their destination of Sumatra and instead were forced to observe the transit from the Cape of Good Hope.

You can now view the part of Cook’s first voyage round the world between Batavia and Cape Town by visiting The website has over 15 hours of animation and audio presenting Cook’s voyage in the Google Earth plugin.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

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