Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day 10: A digression before it starts

A short way up Buzzards Bay from my cold damp anchorage off Dumpling Rocks lies the town of Fairhaven, where back in 1894 or so, old Joshua Slocum, shown above, rebuilt the derelict Spray with his own hands from the keel up, and soon thereafter set out in her to circumnavigate the world, the first solo sailor, as far as we know, ever to do that -- without GPS, without radar, without a depth gauge, without even a chronometer.

But it wasn't enough for old Cap'n Slocum be first of humankind to sail alone around the world. Oh no. He also had to write about it, and he wrote one of the best, maybe the best, book about sailing, ever written -- titled, inevitably and perfectly, Sailing Alone Around The World.

It's never been out of print as far as I know from that day to this, and with good reason. If you haven't read it, stop reading this blog right now and go out and get it. The guy has a prose style to die for, and the way he constructs his narratorial persona would have Proust swooning with envy. And the story he has to tell is endlessly interesting, right down to his cuisine. Here's a sample:

I had resolved on a voyage around the world, and as the wind on the morning of April 24, 1895, was fair, at noon I weighed anchor, set sail, and filled away from Boston, where the Spray had been moored snugly all winter. The twelve-o'clock whistles were blowing just as the sloop shot ahead under full sail. A short board was made up the harbor on the port tack, then coming about she stood seaward, with her boom well off to port, and swung past the ferries with lively heels. A photographer on the outer pier at East Boston got a picture of her as she swept by, her flag at the peak throwing its folds clear.

A thrilling pulse beat high in me. My step was light on deck in the crisp air. I felt that there could be no turning back, and that I was engaging in an adventure the meaning of which I thoroughly understood.

I had taken little advice from any one, for I had a right to my own opinions in matters pertaining to the sea. That the best of sailors might do worse than even I alone was borne in upon me not a league from Boston docks, where a great steamship, fully manned, officered, and piloted, lay stranded and broken.

This was the Venetian. She was broken completely in two over a ledge. So in the first hour of my lone voyage I had proof that the Spray could at least do better than this full-handed steamship, for I was already farther on my voyage than she. "Take warning, Spray, and have a care," I uttered aloud to my bark, passing fairylike silently down the bay.

Speaking as a human being, and as a sailor, and as a would-be writer...

I think I'll shut up for a while.

1 comment:

  1. Readers who would like to follow Michael's advice electronically will benefit from a visit to Google Books.