Captain Slocum's Circumnavigated World

Ever since our stay at the Slocum house in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, I've been curious about the life and voyages of Joshua Slocum. I feel lucky that I chanced upon The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum by Geoffrey Wolff.

It is a wonderful tale of adventure, luck, skill and derring-do. I appreciate the way that Mr. Wolff incorporates history, literary allusions and his own personality into the story. Sometimes an author's intrusion into a story is distracting, but I found the story enhanced by Mr. Wolff's comments and footnotes.

This is one of those books that give you a real sense of the time and place -- sailing for profit is giving way to shipping by steamship. The old ways are again being replaced by the new.

The Brooklyn Bridge has just been completed and Slocum's son remembers the workmen dabbing the topmost masthead of his father's ship the Northern Light by a playful bridge workman. I love that Mr. Wolff stops the story of Slocum to give us a very brief look at the Brooklyn Bridge complete with an excerpt from Hart Crane's poem "To the Brooklyn Bridge".  

A few pages later, Slocum is sailing the Northern Light between Java and Sumatra while Krakatoa is in full eruption. The sea is boiling and "fretting about the ever-changing depth, Slocum ordered the lead line cast, and it came up from the bottom with its tallowed tip melted." Details like this add so much to the reader's enjoyment.

Slocum endures many trials and much controversy, both on land and on the sea -- from mutiny to squalls and battles over payment to some people's disbelief in his solo voyage.  

Much is made of Slocum's love of reading, his shipboard library and his writing skills. Enough examples are given that I now must turn to Slocum's own words in Sailing Alone Around the World.