Monday, March 21, 2016

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOSHUA SLOCUM as told by Susan Slocum Dryer, Great-Great Granddaughter of Joshua Slocum

I was just signing up to teach a Saturday sailing lesson on the CWB.ORG website when I noticed that the great-great Granddaughter of Joshua Slocum would be the Friday Night Series speaker. Joshua Slocum, as most sailors know, was the first person to single handedly circumnavigate the world.
Joshua Slocum

In the early 1890s, after a career as a ship’s officer, Joshua Slocum accepted a friend’s offer of the rotting hull of a hundred-year-old oyster sloop, the Spray. After rebuilding her and testing her in the waters of New England, he set out on an extraordinary voyage, a single-handed circumnavigation of the globe. When he returned home in 1898, he penned the book that has inspired thousands of sailors ever since: “Sailing Alone around the World”.

I had long heard of Slocum and his book about being the first to circumnavigate the world. I did not read the book until just a few years ago. The book absolutely fascinated me. After making a few ocean crossings across the Gulf of Mexico, I know first hand the incredible amount of preparation required a relatively short journey. Ours is a modern sailing sloop with every convenience including all the latest electronic navigating equipment and self steering system.  For a man to be the first to sail around the globe with just a watch, sextant, and very few reliable paper charts, single handed is a feat greater than Neil Armstrong being the first to step foot on the moon. Armstrong had thousands of support personnel and the latest technology. Slocum just had a rebuilt wooden vessel and his own incredible desire. Every sailor today owes Joshua Slocum a huge debt of gratitude for  making this historic voyage and setting the tone for every sailor who followed and reaped the benefits of the knowledge gained by ordinary people sailing their own vessels whether it be across a lake or an ocean. See 
Joshua Slocum Society International:

So I made sure I attended the event at The Center For Wooden Boats featuring Slocum's great-great Granddaughter Susan Slocum Dryer. Susan, I am guessing is about my age or a little younger. She is a Montessori teacher in Metlaktla, Alaska. She explained how when she was a little girl Slocum's son, Benjamin Aymar, told her that she was the great-great granddaughter of "the greatest sailor who ever lived".  Susan took this to heart and at some point began to collect all the family heirlooms and artifacts she could related to her family history and her great-great grandfathers life.
Susan is a "storyteller". It is obviously a gift that either comes from a very right brain, or of her passion for telling her families story and correct any mistakes that have been written in the past accounts by others reporting on Joshua Slocum's life.
She spoke of Victor Slocum, "the castaway" son of Slocum. The second son, Benjamin Aymar, and daughter Jessie Slocum who died in 1960. Garfield, was the youngest surviving son who died in 1955 and three other children dying in infancy at sea, two were twins. She feels she inherited the independent, adventurous spirit of both her great-great grandfather and her mother Carol Irene Slocum.             

I told Susan how fortunate I was to attend this event and have this incredible experience of hearing this story directly from Joshua Slocum's granddaughter. 

Susan brought along several artifacts from her great-great grandfather's travels including this huge flag form the ship "Northern Lights" She left the meaning of the stars on the flag a mystery but there were some interesting gussing by those in the audience. 

After hearing Susan's account I was motivated to learn a bit more about Joshua Slocum's pre-Spray life  which is just as interesting as the circumnavigation story.  Wikipedia has a interesting bit but some of it does not align perfectly with Susan's story: 
and more can be found here on .

It is interesting to note that there are a lot of vessels still sailing the globe that were built on a "Spray Hull" design. Since Joshua survived many a gale on his vessel others felt it must be the perfect solution for cruising around on the planets oceans. I have seen a couple here and there but never thought they would be practical for cruising in 2016 with all the advances of today's technologies. 

Back in March of 2015 I was in Corpus Christi making a visit to Wand'rin Star to do maintenance etc. I took a break and was walking the docks when I met John Crabb. John was preparing to take his home built Spray cruising. I went back and talked to john a couple of times when I was in Corpus to check on his progress. He is now cruising the Bahamas with his Admiral. You can follow him on Facebook.
Here is a picture of John and his Admiral crashing through a wave on their way to their next Bahamian destination taken March 17, 2016.

I first met William Harpster at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival last year. I talked to him about his Spray named "Joshua". He explained that his Spray is the only one that is built to the exact design of the original spry that Joshua Slocum sailed. William lives on Camano Island North of Seattle on Puget Sound and brought his vessel to display at this event featuring  Susan Slocum Dryer.

This  vessel looks so much bigger than 39'6", I guess it is the long bowsprit and the 14' Beam.

I know there must be a lot of room down below, I regret not asking William if I could go below and take some pics.

Looks authentic to me!

To further explain how much influence the Spray Hull has had on boating, you can still find several for sale on,  both sail and power boat hulls. Bruce Roberts, a well know yacht designer built several custom spray hulls for various customers of many different sizes: see

For more information about Susan Slocum Dryer you find find her on her own blog at

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