On April 24, 1895, Captain Joshua Slocum sailed from Boston in a thirty-nine foot sloop, the Spray. He was alone, without even a cat, and alone he proceeded to sail right around the world, arriving in Providence, RI in June of 1898. He did this to make a fool of "an expert" who said it couldn't be done. This was the first time anybody had circumnavigated the world by himself, or at least the first time that anybody knows about. After arriving home, he wrote a book called Sailing Alone Around the World.
Slocum was born in 1844 and went to sea with the Bay of Fundy fishing fleet twelve years later. In 1860 he became a sailor on merchant ships and got his first command in 1871. His fortunes rose and fell, and in 1892 he found himself in Boston without a ship. An friend gave him "a very antiquated sloop... affectionately propped up in a field". He rebuilt her to keep himself busy, and the whole thing got out of hand.
The trip was well-enough publicized, and over the three years that it lasted Captain Slocum and the Spray became, as they say, "celebrated". Okay, it's a travelogue. Slocum writes pleasantly and amusingly and he keeps things moving along. He sails to the Azores, then to Gibraltar, then down the east coast of South America to the Strait of Magellan, which is how you avoid Cape Horn if you're small enough to get through. Cape Horn is a very stormy and grim place. The Strait of Magellan has its charms, as well. The Tierra del Fuegians think Slocum looks like easy pickings. He fires a few warning shots, and spreads carpet tacks on the deck at night to good effect. In the Pacific, he stops off at Juan Fernandez, Robinson Crusoe's island, visits Robert Louis Stevenson's intrepid widow in Samoa, and moves on to Australia. From there, the Keeling Cocos Islands, Mauritius, and South Africa. By the time he hits South Africa, he's quite famous and he gets to meet Oom Paul Kruger, president of the Transvaal. Kruger is convinced that the Earth is flat. Neither man is persuaded of the wisdom of the other's views. On the last leg, he visits St. Helena, Ascension Island, Devil's Island, Grenada, Trinidad, and the Sargasso Sea.
For two hundred and eighty pages, the author alternates between sailing on the sea -- navigation, storms, and various threats -- and tourism on land as an ever-famouser celebrity. He makes friends everywhere he goes, pokes his nose into everything, loves all of it, and has a grand old time. It's fun. There's even a chatty and informative appendix on "The Lines and Sail-Plan of the Spray".
Sailing Alone Around the World is one of the niftier little curios of American letters.
Slocum retired on royalties from the book, and kept active by sailing the Spray to the West Indies for his winter vacations. He made the trip three times. The fourth time, in 1909, he never arrived and hasn't been seen since.