On April 24, 1895, Joshua Slocum sailed out of Fairhaven, Massachusetts on his gaff-rigged sloop Spray. He returned to Newport, Rhode Island on June 27, 1898, and documented that incredible solo sail around the globe in his book Sailing Alone Around the World. His trip and the book were worldwide phenomenons, and Slocum was a celebrity on par in the minds of commen men with Presidents and royalty.
Slocum was born in Nova Scotia on the island and grew up on Brier Island, where his grandmother was the official lighthouse keeper. Brier Island, on the eastern edge of the Bay of Fundy, was the site of many shipwrecks over the centuries. I’m sure that childhood molded the man who would become world famous with his trip around the world.
Slocum made a second voyage with Spray up the Erie Canal to Buffalo for the Pan-American Expo in 1901, which is famous for the execution of President McKinley by an anarchist. There’s a fascinating picture on the Wikipedia page for Slocum that shows the Spray moving through one of the locks of the Erie Canal on his voyage west to Buffalo. That would have been an interesting voyage as well.
Slocum, a restless spirit for sure, would try another voyage with the Spray in 1909 exploring the Amazon River. Slocum and the Spray disappeared on that voyage, never to be seen again. Did the Spray sink? Did natives raid the sloop, kill Slocum and dismantle the Spray for use in other ways? Was there a fire onboard? We’ll never know, unless someone unearths the remains of the Spray someday in the mud of the Amazon or while diving off the coast of Brazil.
What remains is one of the great books on adventure travel, some old grainy pictures of the Spray with Slocum sailing her, and a few monuments to the two. I visited one of those monuments in Fairhaven. It’s a quiet little spot with a view of the harbor. A monument behind Slocum’s pays tribute to the last surviving pilgrim, which is notable company, but Slocum’s monument stands closer to the water. I think he’d have liked it.