Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 4, 1976 · Page 53
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 53

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 4, 1976
Page 53
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Joshua Siocum: Master Mariner By Mark Craig The last day in June, 1989, is a red letter day in the history of sailing. On that day a battered sloop pulled into the harbor of Newport, U.S.A. anchor, she was a sorry sight. Her sails were virtually in shreds, the paintwork -where paint existed -- was peeling. Yet this vessel, the Spray, with Capt. Joshua Siocum at the helm, had just completed the first single handed circumnavigation of the world. Joshua Siocum, master mariner, was born in Wilmot, Annapolis County, in Nova Scotia, in 1844. He came from a long line of sailors on both sides of his family; which dated back to early English Quaker settlers. His father, John Slocombe--as the name was spelled then--had been a sailor around Brier Island - Maiimirr: Julv 1; 1976 when he met his wife, Sarah, the daughter of a retired naval man who kept the lighthouse in Southwest Light, Westport. John and Sarah went to live at the Slocombe farm at Wilmot soon after they were married. But eight years after Joshua was bom they decided to give up farming and open a boot shop at Westport, then a fishing port. The customers were mainly fishermen, and it was here that Joshua first came to know and love the sea. His father was a stern, thrifty man, and when Joshua was ten he decided that he was old enough to earn a living. He started him working in the shop. Joshua loved it. While pegging the knee-length boots, and sewing tanned cowhide, he listened to the customers' stories about the sea. He knew, then, what he wanted to be. When he was only 12, he asked his father's permission to go to sea. His father refused. Two years later, after another refusal, Joshua tried to run away to sea. He was caught, brought back home and beaten soundly. Undeterred, he tried again, this time with better luck. His first ship was the St. Mary's Bay, a fishing schooner. Joshua signed on as cook, and stayed with her for four years. The vessel was based on Westport, so his parents still saw him in between sailings. In 1860, however, his mother died; Joshua left the island for good and went 'deep water.' His first trip abroad was on the lumber carrier Si. John, which called between Brier Island and Dublin. The S(. John was a 'deal dro- ger'--shabby, leaky, and with poor food. It was the type of ship disliked by sailors of the time, and they avoided serving on one if they could. But to Joshua the St. John meant the open sea and adventure. It was the continuation of his dream for the future. Always a quick learner, by the time he was 27 Joshua had skip- pered four ships, and sailed all around the world. It was while he was master of the Washington sailing between San Francisco and Sydney, that he met and married Virginia Walker, daughter of an American couple who had settled in Australia. Their honeymoon was taken on a voyage of the tfaihington to Alaska. Siocum was then 37, his bride just 21. They had two sons, and became a seaborne family. Together they sailed the seas between Australia and China, the South Sea Islands, around the American continent and Africa, all in a variety of ships. Capt. Siocum first came to the public eye in 1887, when he took his family on one of the most original voyages ever made. In a 35 foot boat called the Liberdale, they sailed from Paranagua in South America to Cape Roman, U. S. A., a distance of 5,510 miles. It was during this voyage that the seed of his greatest triumph--the single-handed circumnavigation of the earth--was sown. In the summer of 1891, Siocum saw the vessel Spray, owned by an old friend, under reconstruction at Fairhaven. She was in pretty bad condition, but despite this Joshua liked what he saw. He purchased the Spray and had her re-fitted. One day in March, 1895, Siocum set sail in an attempt to circle the world. · History records his success; and the journey is regarded as a text book for lone sailors--the Spray a model for round-the-world small ships. On his return, Capt. Siocum, 54 years of age, was a sought after figure in New York society. He was personally congratulated by President Theodore Roosevelt. He wrote a successful book about his adventure; and he toured the country, lecturing. He was so successful that he was virtually land-bound. But after a life at sea he found it hard to settle down to this new way of life. At every opportunity he took the Spray out. His last cruise was an intended voyage between Rhode Island, Bristol and the West Indies. There was no apparent reason for the trip, and someone asked him why he was doing it. "To save buying a winter overcoat," he replied. .Siocum and the Spray set out in 1909. Neither was ever seen again. What happened during that voyage has been a mystery of the sea ever since. We can only guess at what might have happened. Siocum was in the best of physical health when he set sail. And the trip was hardly arduous to a man who had conquered the Gulf Stream, sailed through a tornado near Madagascar, rounded the globe single-handed. The Spray may have been caught in a gale; destroyed by fire; involved in a night collision; shipwrecked. Capt. Siocum left a mystery behind him. But more than that, he achieved a one-man success that even today inspires men to go-it- alone around the world. CHARLESTON. W.VA.-3 m

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