Sarah P’s comments: Joshua Slocum sailing around the world on his sloop Spray from 1895-1898, is where it all began. As this blog is about collecting and documenting great individual sailing stories and ventures in all forms (books, movies, and now websites, blogs, podcasts, and videos), I really can’t go too far without paying homage to this story of the first (documented) solo circumnavigator…who then wrote a book about it. This book is timeless and a must-read for anyone contemplating voyaging of any kind. It is the Moby Dick of sailing literature and his adventures spawned the genre of modern sailing stories.
It’s easy to grab a copy of this book from a library or Amazon however, I love to read older versions, so here’s a picture of my favorite cover from the c1900 version:
The ebook is available for free from Project Gutenberg. There’s also a great YouTube video about Slocum’s life and adventures, and the Joshua Slocum Society (now unfortunately disbanded) site contains a wealth of information.
To young men [& women] contemplating a voyage I would say go. The tales of rough usage are for the most part exaggerations, as also are the tales of sea danger. To face the elements is, to be sure, no light matter when the sea is in its grandest mood. You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over.
But where, after all, would be the poetry of the sea were there no wild waves?
I once knew a writer who, after saying beautiful things about the sea, passed through a Pacific hurricane, and he became a changed man.
The days pass happily with me wherever my ship sails.
Sarah P’s comments: Yesterday, I discussed my favorite book by acclaimed circumnavigators Irving & Exy Johnson. Today, I want to talk about their movies. An interesting aspect of their unique lives was that Irving documented a lot of it using a movie camera.
One of the best sailing movies ever made (in my opinion) is The Peking Battles Cape Horn which has made it onto YouTube! This movie chronicles Irving’s stormy rounding of the Horn aboard the German windjammer in 1929 and is both a historical record of sailing and documentary filmmaking.
Johnson also kept a journal of his experience which was the basis for the book of the same name, originally published in 1929 and re-issued by the Mystic Seaport Museum (1997).
Irving & Exy went on to make many more movies some of which became National Geographic specials. All of their material is now housed at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, CT. They sell a narrated compilation of the Johnson’s movies: Unfurling the World . It is well-worth the $29.95 price tag as it not only contains great sailing shots but is a visual record of sailing in what is now a by-gone era.
‘Look at this, the open ocean! The forces involved are fantastic! There’s no words that I can use in any language that will tell you what it’s like. If you’ve been there it’s the only way you’ll know because the forces are beyond anything you’ve ever experienced or thought was possible.’
Sarah P’s comments: It’s tough to choose what items to include my first ‘top ten’ posts because I’ve read so many great and inspiring sailing books. But there is no doubt that Irving Johnson has to be on this list because he was among the first, and the best, plus there is a personal connection for me.
Irving & Exy (Electra) Johnson pioneered sailing around the world with paying crew members. They sailed three times on their schooner Yankee before being interrupted by WWII. Then they purchased a brigantine and circled four more times (on one set of dishes!). Finally, they built a shallow draft vessel which they sailed up the Nile and through the European canals for seventeen years.
Impressive is an understatement. My connection is that Exy went to high school with my grandmother in Rochester, NY. My grandmother then married my grandfather and moved to Maine while Exy married Irving and sailed the seas. My mother recalls going to visit Exy on the second Yankee in or around 1948 while she was anchored in Freeport Harbor (Maine). Irving gave them a tour and my Mom was impressed with the long gimballed table surrounded by cozy bunks with curtains. She was just at the age to dream of going on a trip but there was no way my grandparents had the almost $5,000 to pay for it. However, Irving and Exy did inspire her sailing dream and eventually Mom convinced my father to own sailboats and even earned her Coast Guard Captains license.
Irving and Exy wrote several books about their travels but I consider Westward Bound in the Schooner Yankee their best if you’re going to only read one…
‘The sails are everything, they’re our connection’
‘Our plan was to sail with a number of young people who wold share the expenses of long cruises…We knew this was possible because we knew our ship.’