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Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Keeling Cocos to Rodriguez Island

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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:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Christmas Island to Keeling Cocos

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It’s 550 miles to the Keeling Cocos island group from Christmas Island. The atoll represents a low-lying target less than ten miles across, so Slocum is aware that careful navigation is required. With his old tin clock that has only a working hour hand this will clearly be a challenge.

Using decades of sailing experience, he reads the future in the sky and in the waves. Seeing high cloud that cuts across the trade-wind pattern, he deduces that a storm is brewing in the direction of the Cape of Good Hope and adjusts his course accordingly to allow for the different combination of wind and current that this brings.

Five days later, his intuition is rewarded when he sights the coconut trees of Keeling Cocos ahead while he is half way up the mast. The relief is so great that he slides down the mast, sits on the deck, and “gives way to his emotions.” He has achieved a remarkable feat and part of it belongs to the Spray‘s ability to hold a course :

I didn’t touch the helm, for with the current and heave of the sea the sloop found herself at the end of the run absolutely in the fairway of the channel. You couldn’t have beaten it in the navy!

Slocum stays on the islands for five weeks; remember he’s allowed himself a leisurely pace so he doesn’t arrive too soon off the Cape of Good Hope. Apart from that, why shouldn’t he linger here? After all: “If there is a paradise on this earth it is Keeling.”

The Spray is hauled ashore for some routine maintenance; then his attempt to haul her afloat fails, and the children of the island are delighted to think that a kpeting (a crab) is holding her down by the keel.

Later, Slocum decides it would be a good idea to ditch a few tons of cement ballast and in its place to carry away some of the giant clams called Tridacna. What isn’t such a good idea is to set off across the bay with one of the locals in:

…a rickety bateau that was fitted with a rotten sail, and this blew away in mid-channel in a squall, that sent us drifting helplessly to sea, where we should have been incontinently lost. With the whole ocean before us to leeward, I was dismayed to see, while we drifted, that there was not a paddle or an oar in the boat! There was an anchor, to be sure, but not enough rope to tie a cat, and we were already in deep water. By great good fortune, however, there was a pole. Plying this as a paddle, with the utmost energy, and by the merest accidental flaw in the wind to favour us, the trap of a boat was worked into shoal water, where we could touch bottom and push her ashore.

After this escape, he presses on with his Tridacna plan but uses a safer boat to gather them.

The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here opens 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:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Thursday Island to Christmas Island

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A few days after the celebrations on Thursday Island to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, Slocum sets sail. He heads westward, out into the Arafura Sea, passing Booby Island on the way. He has seen the island before, about 30 years back, but then he was in a fever (possibly contracted in Batavia for his ship, the Soushay, was Sydney-bound from that port), and it was only through an act of will that he dragged himself on deck to see it.

While the sea is relatively shallow he sees many sea snakes writhing and tumbling in the waves and, because the waning Moon leaves the nights dark, he is treated to a fiery display of phosphorescence¹:

It was my good fortune to enter the [Arafura] sea on the last quarter of the moon, the advantage being that in the dark nights I witnessed the phosphorescent light effect at night in its greatest splendour. The sea, where the sloop disturbed it, seemed all ablaze, so that by its light I could see the smallest articles on deck, and her wake was a path of fire.

The weather is serene and the trade winds favourable. Slocum takes this northerly route in order to enjoy these conditions; he has no desire to go around the Cape of Good Hope before the middle of the southern summer and he finds that this plan gives him the time to loiter among the islands along the way.

Even so, as an inveterate sailing ship master he wants to get the best speed out of his vessel. For whatever reason he is dissatisfied with the Spray‘s pace and to remedy this he sets his flying-jib as a spinnaker², using as a pole “the stoutest bamboo that Mrs. Stevenson had given me at Samoa.”

As in the Pacific, the Spray holds her course with remarkable accuracy and for days on end he finds the latitude at noon to be 10° 25’S.

By 02Jul1897 Slocum sees the island of Timor to the north; the next day he passes close by Dana Island off the western end of Timor and smells the fragrances wafted offshore by a breeze. He has crossed the Timor Sea and he enters the Indian Ocean heading for Christmas Island about 1,000 miles distant, arriving eight days later on 11Jul1897.

The section of Joshua Slocum’s journey reported here concludes 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:


1. Using  TourMaker I simulated the phosphorescence that Slocum saw by stretching out a white strip to keep pace with the Spray.

2. I needed to create another model to show the flying-jib set as a spinnaker. While I was about it I swung out the mainsail boom to give a goose-wing effect.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Cape Turn to Famine Reach

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In the violent winds off the Pacific shore of Tierra del Fuego the Spray‘s sails were torn to ribbons, so Slocum takes the opportunity to repair them in his snug cove at Cape Turn in Cockburn Channel. He is just wondering why no trees grow on the shoreline when an almighty williwaw tears down the mountainside and pushes the Spray out into the channel. At this time Slocum has two anchors down and the sudden wind drags them both. The absence of trees is fully explained:

Great Boreas! A tree would need to be all roots to hold on against such a furious wind.

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Fortunately, at this corner where the Cockburn Channel becomes the Magdalena Channel there is a wide stretch of water and Slocum has enough time to raise the anchors and get under way.

This pattern is repeated the following day; he is settling into sail-making again and a williwaw plucks the boat and her anchor away from the shore. Slocum sails on and later that day he rejoins the Strait of Magellan opposite Cape Froward and shapes his course for St. Nicholas Bay – where he last anchored on 19Feb.

As the Spray approaches the bay, a sheet on the stay-sail gives way; Slocum goes forward to investigate and it’s only when he’s up in the bow that he sees cliffs ahead and breakers very close by. He dashes back to the helm and swings away. If it had not been for the rigging failure he would surely have struck ground.

He comes to anchor in the bay and again the sloop is tossed about by the wind and carried away. The wind is from the south-west, so the Spray is being pushed relentlessly back in the direction of Punta Arenas. She rounds the headland, turning north, and finds calm water in the lee of the mountains. By this time Slocum is quite weary.

He starts paying out the anchor, thinking he has 8 fathoms depth beneath him, but yet another williwaw knocks him down and pushes him to deeper water. Slocum thinks the answer is rapidly to pay out more anchor cable, in an attempt to find the bottom and hold the yacht on station, but 50 fathoms are paid out as the sloop is pushed still further into the deeper waters of Famine Reach, the name of this section of the Strait.

In this situation, Slocum must retrieve the anchor and spends the night at the windlass heaving away and singing old sailing songs. He refers to his days as master of a ship:

On the little crab-windlass I worked the rest of the night, thinking how much easier it was for me when I could say, “Do that thing or the other,” than to do it myself.

By daylight, the anchor is retrieved but the Spray is drifting north towards Punta Arenas; Slocum can see ships at anchor in the distance. If it had not been for a change of the wind to the north-east, Slocum would probably have returned to the port in order to replace the Spray‘s sails; but this new wind is favourable to a second attempt to reach the Pacific, so Slocum comes about and heads further into the Strait of Magellan: “to traverse a second time the second half of my first course through the strait.”

This section of Joshua Slocum’s journey concludes Chapter VIII of Sailing Alone Around the World, an adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you like this presentation, then you may also enjoy Cook’s first voyage round the world at:

Joshua Slocum in Google Earth: Port Tamar to Cape Turn

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Slocum sails from Port Tamar on 03Mar1896. The wide Pacific is before him and the Spray takes her first “bath” in it after passing Cape Pillar. Although the wind is fair at first a storm is brewing. It’s too dark to turn back for the land so Slocum must run out to sea. By the morning of the following day the wind rises to a “terrific force” and all that Slocum can do is to run before it under bare poles and trailing two long ropes astern to steady the course.

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For four days Slocum rides out the storm, eventually managing to raise a reefed forestaysail and grab some hot food. He realises that there is little chance of working back north and west along the coast of Tierra del Fuego and is already planning a run to Port Stanley in the Falklands. Effectively, he is thinking of switching his plan back to the original one, which was to sail round the world in an easterly direction.

Then he sees a high mountain off the port beam through a gap in the clouds and turns up for it. He doesn’t say which island he thinks it is, only that he is mistaken in its identity. Night falls before he reaches the land and what follows is a frantic and exhausting night of dodging rocks and shallows using the sight and sound of the breakers to tell him where the danger lies.

By the morning, he can see that he is in the Milky Way of the sea and that it was Fury Island that he had seen the previous day. Darwin had written of this patch of sea:

Any landsman seeing the Milky Way would have nightmare for a week.

Slocum comments:

He might have added “or seaman” as well.

By sailing with great care, the Spray reaches calmer waters inside the galaxy of rocks, and Slocum realises that he is in Cockburn Channel which connects with the Strait of Magellan opposite Cape Froward – his position on 20Feb. However, despite this setback and the trouble he had with Fuegians in the strait, he is more than content:

I was exultant over the prospect of once more entering the Strait of Magellan and beating through again into the Pacific, for it was more than rough on the outside coast of Tierra del Fuego.

By nightfall on 08Mar1896, the Spray is at anchor in a snug cove at Cape Turn – where Cockburn Channel turns north towards Cape Froward. Slocum is exhausted and must sleep, but not before spreading Pedro Samblich’s carpet tacks about the deck, making sure that some of them are “business end” up. Sure enough, at about midnight, he is woken by the howl of barefoot savages as they find his early warning system.

This section of Joshua Slocum’s journey is the first part of Chapter VIII of Sailing Alone Around the World, an adventure that I am retelling in Google Earth at:

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

If you like this presentation, then you may also enjoy Cook’s first voyage round the world at:

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