Today I’d like to introduce you to a great friend of mine, Joshua Slocum. Well, I never personally met him since he died thirty-seven years before I was born, but I wish I did. Those of you who are inveterate sailors may be excused. The sun is over the yardarm for you. You know his story better than you know the difference between the port and starboard sides of a ship. Keep my Bloody Mary waiting, mates. I’ll be joining you shortly.
Joshua Slocum was born to a hardworking Nova Scotian family on February 20, 1844. Though he ran away earlier, by the time he was sixteen, he heard the sea call his name so clearly, he was gone for good, working on a merchant ship headed for Ireland. As he matured, his travels brought him to the Dutch Indies, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, Australia, and other destinations only a man with the sea in his veins could dream of.
When it came time to marry, Slocum was lucky enough to marry Virginia Walker, a woman who loved the sea as much as he did. And it was a good thing she did. They had seven children, typical for a family at that time. What wasn’t typical was that they were either born at sea or in a foreign port.
Slocum’s prowess as a mariner and captain was particularly evident aboard the Washington. The ship got into terrible trouble during a gale and broke up on shore. Risking his life, he not only rescued his wife and crew but the cargo as well.
By the time Slocum was thirty, he became the owner of the Pato, a freighter he operated along the West Coast of the United States and between San Francisco and Hawaii. An industrious mariner who knew the value of hard work and personal drive, he eventually traded up till he became part owner of the Northern Light 2, a handsome clipper ship. Though it made his heart sing, it came with multiple troubles which included mutinies, physical and legal problems. Though the ship didn’t last long in Slocum‘s life, the experience seasoned him into a tougher, wiser sailor.
His next ship was the Aquidneck. Sadly, his wife died on it in Buenos Aires, and things were never quite the same. His second wife, Henrietta, hardly shared his passion for the sea. Perhaps it was the hurricane they sailed through that did it. Or maybe it was the crew that came down with cholera then were quarantined for months.
During the trip, Slocum was attacked by pirates and forced to shoot one of them. He went on trial for murder but was acquitted. Then his crew came down with smallpox and three died. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, his vessel was shipwrecked in Brazil.
Joshua Slocum always had a hopeful heart and a dream to match. With the help of his wife and two older sons traveling with him, he built a boat using scraps from his shipwrecked boat and pieces of local timber. Because he launched it the same day Brazil outlawed slavery, May 13, 1888, he named her the Liberdade.
The trip back to the United States though somewhat long- fifty-five days- was relatively uneventful. Henrietta never went to sea again. Continue reading →