Sailing Alone Around the World,
By Captain Joshua Slocum, 1900
at Port Denison, Queensland --A lecture
--Reminiscences of Captain Cook --Lecturing for
charity at Cooktown --A happy escape from a coral
reef --Home Island, Sunday Island, Bird Island
--An American pearl-fisherman --Jubilee at
Thursday Island --A new ensign for the
Spray --Booby Island --Across the
Indian Ocean --Christmas Island
the morning of the 26th Gloucester Island
was close aboard, and the Spray
anchored in the evening at Port Denison, where
rests, on a hill, the sweet little town of Bowen,
the future watering place and health-resort of
Queensland. The country all about here had a
The harbor was easy of approach, spacious and
safe, and afforded excellent holding-ground. It
was quiet in Bowen when the Spray
arrived, and the good people with an hour to throw
away on the second evening of her arrival came
down to the School of Arts to talk about the
voyage, it being the latest event. It was duly
advertised in the two little papers,
"Boomerang" and "Nully
Nully," in the one the day before the affair
came off, and in the other the day after, which
was all the same to the editor, and, for that
matter, it was the same to me.
Besides this, circulars were distributed with a
flourish, and the "best bellman" in
Australia was employed. But I could have
keelhauled the wretch, bell and all, when he came
to the door of the little hotel where my
prospective audience and I were dining, and with
his clattering bell and fiendish yell made noises
that would awake the dead, all over the voyage of
the Spray from "Boston to Bowen,
the two Hubs in the cart-wheels of creation,"
as the "Boomerang" afterward said.
Mr. Myles, magistrate, harbor-master, land
commissioner, gold warden, etc., was chairman, and
introduced me, for what reason I never knew,
except to embarrass me with a sense of vain
ostentation and embitter my life, for Heaven knows
I had met every person in town the first hour
ashore. I knew them all by name now, and they all
knew me. However, Mr. Myles was a good talker.
Indeed, I tried to induce him to go on and tell
the story while I showed the pictures, but this he
refused to do. I may explain that it was a talk
illustrated by stereopticon. The views were good,
but the lantern, a thirty-shilling affair, was
wretched, and had only an oil-lamp in it.
I sailed early the next morning before the
papers came out thinking it best to do so. They
each appeared with a favorable column, however, of
what they called a lecture, so I learned
afterward, and they had a kind word for the
From Port Denison the sloop ran before the
constant trade-wind, and made no stop at all,
night or day, till she reached Cooktown, on the
Endeavor River, where she arrived Monday, May 31,
1897, before a furious blast of wind encountered
that day fifty miles down the coast. On this
parallel of latitude is the high ridge and
backbone of the tradewinds, which about Cooktown
amount often to a hard gale.
I had been charged to navigate the route with
extra care, and to feel my way over the ground.
The skilled officer of the royal navy who advised
me to take the Barrier Reef passage wrote me that
H. M. S. Orlando steamed
nights as well as days through it, but that I,
under sail, would jeopardize my vessel on coral
reefs if I undertook to do so.
Confidentially, it would have been no easy
matter finding anchorage every night. The hard
work, too, of getting the sloop under way every
morning was finished, I had hoped, when she
cleared the Strait of Magellan. Besides that, the
best of admiralty charts made it possible to keep
on sailing night and day. Indeed, with a fair
wind, and in the clear weather of that season, the
way through the Barrier Reef Channel, in all
sincerity, was clearer than a highway in a busy
city, and by all odds less dangerous. But to any
one contemplating the voyage I would say, beware
of reefs day or night, or, remaining on the land,
be wary still.
"The Spray came flying into
port like a bird," said the longshore daily
papers of Cooktown the morning after she arrived;
"and it seemed strange," they added,
"that only one man could be seen on board
working the craft." The Spray
was doing her best, to be sure, for it was near
night, and she was in haste to find a perch before
Tacking inside of all the craft in port, I
moored her at sunset nearly abreast the Captain
Cook monument, and next morning went ashore to
feast my eyes on the very stones the great
navigator had seen, for I was now on a seaman's
consecrated ground. But there seemed a question
in Cooktown's mind as to the exact spot where his
ship, the Endeavor, hove down for
repairs on her memorable voyage around the world.
Some said it was not at all at the place where the
monument now stood. A discussion of the subject
was going on one morning where I happened to be,
and a young lady present, turning to me as one of
some authority in nautical matters, very
flatteringly asked my opinion. Well, I could see
no reason why Captain Cook, if he made up his mind
to repair his ship inland, couldn't have dredged
out a channel to the place where the monument now
stood, if he had a dredging-machine with him, and
afterward fill it up again; for Captain Cook could
do 'most anything, and nobody ever said that he
hadn't a dredger along. The young lady seemed to
lean to my way of thinking, and following up the
story of the historical voyage, asked if I had
visited the point farther down the harbor where
the great circumnavigator was murdered. This took
my breath, but a bright school-boy coming along
relieved my embarrassment, for, like all boys,
seeing that information was wanted, he volunteered
to supply it. Said he: "Captain Cook wasn't
murdered 'ere at all, ma'am; 'e was killed in
Hafrica: a lion et 'im."
Here I was reminded of distressful days gone
by. I think it was in 1866 that the old steamship
Soushay, from Batavia for Sydney, put
in at Cooktown for scurvy-grass, as I always
thought, and "incidentally" to land
mails. On her sick-list was my fevered self; and
so I didn't see the place till I came back on the
Spray thirty-one years later. And
now I saw coming into port the physical wrecks of
miners from New Guinea, destitute and dying. Many
had died on the way and had been buried at sea.
He would have been a hardened wretch who could
look on and not try to do something for them.
The sympathy of all went out to these
sufferers, but the little town was already
straitened from a long run on its benevolence. I
thought of the matter, of the lady's gift to me at
Tasmania, which I had promised myself I would keep
only as a loan, but found now, to my
embarrassment, that I had invested the money.
However, the good Cooktown people wished to hear a
story of the sea, and how the crew of the
Spray fared when illness got aboard
of her. Accordingly the little Presbyterian
church on the hill was opened for a conversation;
everybody talked, and they made a roaring success
of it. Judge Chester, the magistrate, was at the
head of the gam, and so it was bound to succeed.
He it was who annexed the island of New Guinea to
Great Britain. "While I was about it,"
said he, "I annexed the blooming lot of
it." There was a ring in the statement
pleasant to the ear of an old voyager. However,
the Germans made such a row over the judge's
mainsail haul that they got a share in the
Well, I was now indebted to the miners of
Cooktown for the great privilege of adding a mite
to a worthy cause, and to Judge Chester all the
town was indebted for a general good time. The
matter standing so, I sailed on June 6, 1897,
heading away for the north as before.
Arrived at a very inviting anchorage about
sundown, the 7th, I came to, for the night,
abreast the Claremont light-ship. This was the
only time throughout the passage of the Barrier
Reef Channel that the Spray anchored,
except at Port Denison and at Endeavor River. On
the very night following this, however (the 8th),
I regretted keenly, for an instant, that I had not
anchored before dark, as I might have done easily
under the lee of a coral reef. It happened in
this way. The Spray had just passed
M Reef light-ship, and left the light dipping
astern, when, going at full speed, with sheets
off, she hit the M Reef itself on the north end,
where I expected to see a beacon.
She swung off quickly on her heel, however, and
with one more bound on a swell cut across the
shoal point so quickly that I hardly knew how it
was done. The beacon wasn't there; at least, I
didn't see it. I hadn't time to look for it after
she struck, and certainly it didn't much matter
then whether I saw it or not.
But this gave her a fine departure for Cape
Greenville, the next point ahead. I saw the ugly
boulders under the sloop's keel as she flashed
over them, and I made a mental note of it that the
letter M, for which the reef was named, was the
thirteenth one in our alphabet, and that thirteen,
as noted years before, was still my lucky number.
The natives of Cape Greenville are notoriously
bad, and I was advised to give them the go-by.
Accordingly, from M Reef I steered outside of the
adjacent islands, to be on the safe side.
Skipping along now, the Spray passed
Home Island, off the pitch of the cape, soon after
midnight, and squared away on a westerly course.
A short time later she fell in with a steamer
bound south, groping her way in the dark and
making the night dismal with her own black smoke.
From Home Island I made for Sunday Island, and
bringing that abeam, shortened sail, not wishing
to make Bird Island, farther along, before
daylight, the wind being still fresh and the
islands being low, with dangers about them.
Wednesday, June 9, 1897, at daylight, Bird Island
was dead ahead, distant two and a half miles,
which I considered near enough. A strong current
was pressing the sloop forward. I did not shorten
sail too soon in the night! The first and only
Australian canoe seen on the voyage was
encountered here standing from the mainland, with
a rag of sail set, bound for this island.
A long, slim fish that leaped on board in the
night was found on deck this morning. I had it
for breakfast. The spry chap was no larger around
than a herring, which it resembled in every
respect, except that it was three times as long;
but that was so much the better, for I am rather
fond of fresh herring, anyway. A great number of
fisher-birds were about this day, which was one of
the pleasantest on God's earth. The
Spray, dancing over the waves,
entered Albany Pass as the sun drew low in the
west over the hills of Australia.
At 7:30 P. M., the
Spray, now through the pass, came to
anchor in a cove in the mainland, near a
pearl-fisherman, called the Tarawa,
which was at anchor, her captain from the deck of
his vessel directing me to a berth. This done, he
at once came on board to clasp hands. The
Tarawa was a Californian, and Captain
Jones, her master, was an American.
On the following morning Captain Jones brought
on board two pairs of exquisite pearl shells, the
most perfect ones I ever saw. They were probably
the best he had, for Jones was the heart-yarn of a
sailor. He assured me that if I would remain a
few hours longer some friends from Somerset, near
by, would pay us all a visit, and one of the crew,
sorting shells on deck, "guessed" they
would. The mate "guessed" so, too. The
friends came, as even the second mate and cook had
"guessed" they would. They were Mr.
Jardine, stockman, famous throughout the land, and
his family. Mrs. Jardine was the niece of King
Malietoa, and cousin to the beautiful Faamu-Sami
("To make the sea burn"), who visited
the Spray at Apia. Mr. Jardine was
himself a fine specimen of a Scotsman. With his
little family about him, he was content to live in
this remote place, accumulating the comforts of
The fact of the Tarawa having been
built in America accounted for the crew, boy Jim
and all, being such good guessers. Strangely
enough, though, Captain Jones himself, the only
American aboard, was never heard to guess at all.
After a pleasant chat and good-by to the people
of the Tarawa, and to Mr. and Mrs.
Jardine, I again weighed anchor and stood across
for Thursday Island, now in plain view,
mid-channel in Torres Strait, where I arrived
shortly after noon. Here the Spray
remained over until June 24. Being the only
American representative in port, this tarry was
imperative, for on the 22d was the Queen's diamond
jubilee. The two days over were, as sailors say,
for "coming up."
Meanwhile I spent pleasant days about the
island. Mr. Douglas, resident magistrate,
invited me on a cruise in his steamer one day
among the islands in Torres Strait. This being a
scientific expedition in charge of Professor Mason
Bailey, botanist, we rambled over Friday and
Saturday islands, where I got a glimpse of botany.
Miss Bailey, the professor's daughter, accompanied
the expedition, and told me of many indigenous
plants with long names.
The 22d was the great day on Thursday Island,
for then we had not only the jubilee, but a
jubilee with a grand corroboree in it, Mr.
Douglas having brought some four hundred native
warriors and their wives and children across from
the mainland to give the celebration the true
native touch, for when they do a thing on Thursday
Island they do it with a roar. The corroboree
was, at any rate, a howling success. It took
place at night, and the performers, painted in
fantastic colors, danced or leaped about before a
blazing fire. Some were rigged and painted like
birds and beasts, in which the emu and kangaroo
were well represented. One fellow leaped like a
frog. Some had the human skeleton painted on
their bodies, while they jumped about
threateningly, spear in hand, ready to strike down
some imaginary enemy. The kangaroc hopped and
danced with natural ease and grace, making a fine
figure. All kept time to music, vocal and
instrumental, the instruments (save the mark!)
being bits of wood, which they beat one against
the other, and saucer-like bones, held in the palm
of the hands, which they knocked together, making
a dull sound. It was a show at once amusing,
spectacular, and hideous.
The warrior aborigines that I saw in Queensland
were for the most part lithe and fairly well
built, but they were stamped always with repulsive
features, and their women were, if possible, still
more ill favored.
I observed that on the day of the jubilee no
foreign flag was waving in the public grounds
except the Stars and Stripes, which along with the
Union Jack guarded the gateway, and floated in
many places, from the tiniest to the standard
size. Speaking to Mr. Douglas, I ventured a
remark on this compliment to my country.
"Oh," said he, "this is a family
affair, and we do not consider the Stars and
Stripes a foreign flag." The
Spray of course flew her best
bunting, and hoisted the Jack as well as her own
noble flag as high as she could.
On June 24 the Spray, well fitted
in every way, sailed for the long voyage ahead,
down the Indian Ocean. Mr. Douglas gave her a
flag as she was leaving his island. The
Spray had now passed nearly all the
dangers of the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, which,
indeed, were not a few; and all ahead from this
point was plain sailing and a straight course.
The trade-wind was still blowing fresh, and could
be safely counted on now down to the coast of
Madagascar, if not beyond that, for it was still
early in the season.
I had no wish to arrive off the Cape of Good
Hope before midsummer, and it was now early
winter. I had been off that cape once in July,
which was, of course, midwinter there. The stout
ship I then commanded encountered only fierce
hurricanes, and she bore them ill. I wished for
no winter gales now. It was not that I feared
them more, being in the Spray instead
of a large ship, but that I preferred fine weather
in any case. It is true that one may encounter
heavy gales off the Cape of Good Hope at any
season of the year, but in the summer they are
less frequent and do not continue so long. And so
with time enough before me to admit of a run
ashore on the islands en route, I shaped the
course now for Keeling Cocos, atoll islands,
distant twenty-seven hundred miles. Taking a
departure from Booby Island, which the sloop
passed early in the day, I decided to sight Timor
on the way, an island of high mountains.
Booby Island I had seen before, but only once,
however, and that was when in the steamship
Soushay, on which I was
"hove-down" in a fever. When she
steamed along this way I was well enough to crawl
on deck to look at Booby Island. Had I died for
it, I would have seen that island. In those days
passing ships landed stores in a cave on the
island for shipwrecked and distressed wayfarers.
Captain Airy of the Soushay, a good
man, sent a boat to the cave with his contribution
to the general store. The stores were landed in
safety, and the boat, returning, brought back from
the improvised post-office there a dozen or more
letters, most of them left by whalemen, with the
request that the first homeward-bound ship would
carry them along and see to their mailing, which
had been the custom of this strange postal service
for many years. Some of the letters brought back
by our boat were directed to New Bedford, and some
to Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
There is a light to-day on Booby Island, and
regular packet communication with the rest of the
world, and the beautiful uncertainty of the fate
of letters left there is a thing of the past. I
made no call at the little island, but standing
close in, exchanged signals with the keeper of the
light. Sailing on, the sloop was at once in the
Arafura Sea, where for days she sailed in water
milky white and green and purple. It was my good
fortune to enter the 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 splendor. 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.
On the 25th of June the sloop was already clear
of all the shoals and dangers, and was sailing on
a smooth sea as steadily as before, but with speed
somewhat slackened. I got out the flying-jib made
at Juan Fernandez, and set it as a spinnaker from
the stoutest bamboo that Mrs. Stevenson had given
me at Samoa. The spinnaker pulled like a sodger,
and the bamboo holding its own, the
Spray mended her pace.
Several pigeons flying across to-day from
Australia toward the islands bent their course
over the Spray. Smaller birds were
seen flying in the opposite direction. In the
part of the Arafura that I came to first, where it
was shallow, sea-snakes writhed about on the
surface and tumbled over and over in the waves.
As the sloop sailed farther on, where the sea
became deep, they disappeared. In the ocean,
where the water is blue, not one was ever seen.
In the days of serene weather there was not
much to do but to read and take rest on the
Spray, to make up as much as possible
for the rough time off Cape Horn, which was not
yet forgotten, and to forestall the Cape of Good
Hope by a store of ease. My sea journal was now
much the same from day to day-- something like
this of June 26 and 27, for example:
June 26, in the morning, it is a bit squally;
later in the day blowing a steady breeze.
On the log at noon is............130 miles
Subtract correction for slip......10 "
Add for current...................10 "
Latitude by observation at noon, 10 degrees 23' S.
Longitude as per mark on the chart.
There wasn't much brain-work in that log, I'm
sure. June 27 makes a better showing, when all is
First of all, to-day, was a flying-fish on
deck; fried it in butter.
133 miles on the log.
For slip, off, and for current, on, as per guess,
about equal--let it go at that.
Latitude by observation at noon, 10 degrees 25' S.
For several days now the Spray
sailed west on the parallel of 10 degrees 25' S.,
as true as a hair. If she deviated at all from
that, through the day or night,--and this may have
happened,--she was back, strangely enough, at
noon, at the same latitude. But the greatest
science was in reckoning the longitude. My tin
clock and only timepiece had by this time lost its
minute-hand, but after I boiled her she told the
hours, and that was near enough on a long stretch.
On the 2d of July the great island of Timor was
in view away to the nor'ard. On the following day
I saw Dana Island, not far off, and a breeze came
up from the land at night, fragrant of the spices
or what not of the coast.
On the 11th, with all sail set and with the
spinnaker still abroad, Christmas Island, about
noon, came into view one point on the starboard
bow. Before night it was abeam and distant two
and a half miles. The surface of the island
appeared evenly rounded from the sea to a
considerable height in the center. In outline it
was as smooth as a fish, and a long ocean swell,
rolling up, broke against the sides, where it lay
like a monster asleep, motionless on the sea. It
seemed to have the proportions of a whale, and as
the sloop sailed along its side to the part where
the head would be, there was a nostril, even,
which was a blow-hole through a ledge of rock
where every wave that dashed threw up a shaft of
water, lifelike and real.
It had been a long time since I last saw this
island; but I remember my temporary admiration for
the captain of the ship I was then in, the
Tanjore, when he sang out one morning
from the quarter-deck, well aft, "Go aloft
there, one of ye, with a pair of eyes, and see
Christmas Island." Sure enough, there the
island was in sight from the royal-yard. Captain
M---- had thus made a great hit, and he never got
over it. The chief mate, terror of us ordinaries
in the ship, walking never to windward of the
captain, now took himself very humbly to leeward
altogether. When we arrived at Hong-Kong there
was a letter in the ship's mail for me. I was in
the boat with the captain some hours while he had
it. But do you suppose he could hand a letter to
a seaman? No, indeed; not even to an ordinary
seaman. When we got to the ship he gave it to the
first mate; the first mate gave it to the second
mate, and he laid it, michingly, on the
capstan-head, where I could get it!