Joshua Slocum’s Last Hours

by Gabriel Miller / Oct 10, 2013 /

Wind has always been my friend. On hot days it swoops in and cools me down, which makes the other people in my family unhappy because they love the heat; when I am kite surfing it usually is there to hold my kit up in the air, which helps me to move around. When I am sailing, it is there to move my boat around where I guide it. My dream always has been to sail around this large world, to keep sailing through gales and through hardships, and to come back to where I began in one piece.

One evening, after a dinner of pizza, I decided I needed to have an early sleep date, so I went to my bed and fell asleep. I woke up what felt like seconds later to the rocking of a boat. I knew the feeling, I have always known it, but this was strange because I hadn’t been on a boat when I fell asleep the night before. I could hear the waves beat against the boat as it was driven before a wind. I could hear ropes snapping in the wind and canvas flapping now and again. I slowly got up, as always becoming accustomed to my surroundings quickly and being able to walk easy through the boat, and came to the door leading to the deck. For a moment I just stood there, looking around me. It was obviously a sailboat and a small one at that, having only one bed. Finally I turned to the door and worked the latch, swinging it open and stepping up and out onto the deck.

A heavy and slightly loud voice called out to me, “Welcome to the Spray, my boy! My boat that has taken me everywhere I need to go. Take the tiller and hold her steady, boy, a gale’s coming.”

In a slight trance, I stepped over to the man and took the tiller from his large hands. His eyes were crinkled at the sides from smiling and squinting into the sun. His slightly familiar face was weather-beaten and tough, while also looking kind and open to everything and everyone. I would not have called him handsome, because he wasn’t, but he was very gentle in his manner and that made him seem nicer to probably anyone than being handsome would have.

Joshua Slocum

The gale rose and rose, and the man showed me the workings of his boat, telling me how to run things and what different things do. The boat was a small boat that could easily be run by one man.

“I haven’t touched that tiller since I left port until today, my boy! I never have needed to, all that I have to do is trim the sails and it goes the way I want it to go. It is quite a nice design. What’s your name, boy?”

“My name is Gabriel, sir, and you are Joshua Slocum, right? I recognize the boat. I have read about you. Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” I asked.

“Do I look dead to you? Maybe you are dreaming about that, boy! And yes, I am Joshua Slocum, first man to sail solo around the world. And this here is the Spray, the boat that took me around the world. I picked you up two days ago out of the ocean. Hope we don’t both go in the drink today! I think that if I can harness this storm, we will get to port in two days! I pulled you up after seeing you twice on a wave. I didn’t know what to do when you were unconscious, so I just put you below,” he called over the rising storm.

Joshua Slocum's RTW sailing route

“I suppose I owe my life to you Mr. Slocum. Thank you.”  Here I was, in the presence of one of my heroes.

Finally the storm hit. I was put on the tiller and he ran about the boat trimming it and re-trimming. Hours passed us by as we fought the storm. Suddenly something flashed through my mind. This is how he dies… and I am going to die with him. In November 14, 1909, Joshua Slocum had set sail for the West Indies on one of his winter voyages and he was never heard from again. In 1910, his wife reported that he should have been home a very long time ago. This is how it happened! Finally I was doing what I had always dreamed of doing, sailing through a storm. But even better, I was doing it with a world-famous sailor and he was showing me how to do it.

I have sailed through storms before, and even as I write these words, images of wind, water, rain, tipping boats, and so many other things are flashing through my mind…but nothing like this. Lightning flashed to the water around us, making that one spot boil for a second, waves the size of buildings washed over us, and through it all I heard Joshua yelling commands at me and laughing hysterically. Although I have very little idea why, I did feel a bit excited and happy, like when going down a roller coaster...why would you laugh on one of those? Because it is fun, of course! For a few hours I was very scared, clinging to the tiller with one hand and the railing with the other. But after a while I was infected with Joshua’s laughter and I started enjoying it. Cold water rushed over the back of our boat and just as quickly I would bale it back out, all the while keeping a hand on the tiller. Then it happened. A wave, bigger than any wave I had ever seen, came bearing down upon us. Joshua saw it just as I did and looked at me with a trace of fear in his eyes.

“I hope you can swim, boy!” He yelled.

Then we were riding it. It brought us up and up and up until it looked like we would just go over the tip of it, but then it turned into a breaker (a wave where the top curls and drops so that it is white on top, like you see on a beach). Our boat was pulled up to the top and then turned over so that he and I both fell. I, of course, knew how to swim, but I knew that Joshua did not. He always thought that swimming was a useless thing to learn and so he never did. Just before I hit the water I heard him yell to me, “Thank you for the good time we had, boy!” And then I struck.

The Spray, Joshua Slocum

I sat up in bed with start and stared into the black folds of the night. I was not sure if I had a nightmare, and I was shocked that I had woken up again, for the second time this night, or was it day? I reached over and touched my brother Elisha, who was sleeping next me, and I knew that I was awake. Sweat was making my skin clammy. I groped around for my ipod to see what time it was. Six am. I lay down on my bed and tried to go to sleep again, but waves and Joshua Slocum flashed through my mind over and over. I couldn’t think straight. Finally I got up and went into the kitchen, where I found my mom sitting up.

“Why are you up so early?” I asked her.

“Couldn’t sleep, you?” She replied.

“Are you sure I am awake?” I asked.

“Yes, why?”

“I just had the strangest dream, that’s all.” I answered.

“Gabriel! Why is your hair and clothing soaking wet?” She cried.

I looked down and saw a puddle forming below me. I ran back up to my room and found my bed soaked.

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Joshua Slocum is one of my heroes. I read extensively about his life and adventures and I just got his book, Sailing Alone Around the World. I have not read it yet, but I am looking forward to it.

Anyone who loves the sea, wants to sail, is a fan of sailing but doesn’t do it him or herself, should read about Joshua Slocum. He was one of the first people to sail nonstop around the world solo. My uncle is named after him, which I sort of envy! Slocum is sailing history, and his legacy still lives to this day. Boats are made to copy the Spray, with varying amounts of success. I don’t know why that is so, but it is. I think that he is a very important part of human history.

The Spray, Joshua Slocum

 

 

Gabriel Miller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program

 

All photos courtesy and copyright flickr creative commons: nycscout