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    Joshua Slocum, Victor Slocum, and lunars
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 Mar 2, 12:27 -0800

    George H
    "I'm not sure what Frank's aim is here: it reads like a denigration of
    Slocum's navigational ability. Is that really in question?"
    No, of course not. I was agreeing, in part, with something that you said. Let's go over it again.
    1) As Geoffrey said, one can view Slocum's circumnavigation as a celebration 
    of the art of dead reckoning (for longitude, that is). I agree.
    2) As you said, navigators who sailed this way were taking risks. Slocum 
    easily could have carried a chronometer, but he chose not to for his own 
    pleasure, his own delight in navigating by "traditional" means.
    3) As you said, risk-takers are often weeded out by natural selection. I agree.
    4) And then I noted that, sure enough, Slocum the risk-taker WAS weeded out by 
    natural selection. He was lost at sea where a better mariner might have 
    Does that make sense now?
    Moving on... You wrote:
    " Anyway, we know of Slocum's ability to handle lunars, not only from that one 
    instance in his circumnavigation, but from earlier experience as captain of a 
    passenger vessel, when his chronometers would be regularly checked by 
    He may have done this. Or maybe not. As far as I have been able to determine, 
    ONLY Victor Slocum claimed that this occurred and if it did, it happened 
    before Victor was born. After childhood, Victor barely knew his father. 
    Unfortunately, Victor Slocum, like many others, apparently believed that his 
    father had navigated the Spray during its circum-navigation using lunars as a 
    regular component of the navigation, and that seems to explain this section 
    in Victor's book. He's trying very hard to justify the use of lunars --and 
    that was a serious flaw in his analysis of the circum-navigation.
    And you wrote:
    "Indeed, it's so tricky to observe useful lunars from the unstable deck of a
    small craft, that it calls for sea conditions that are so infrequent as to
    make the method impractical, most of the time. "
    Says WHO?? Several years ago, I posted logbook evidence from a couple of small 
    schooners where lunars were used successfully in the early 19th century.. It 
    took no great searchng to find such examples. It's  a little amusing that 
    you're now able to cite a "perfectly logical" reason why Slocum would NOT 
    have shot lunars on the Spray while a few years back you had several 
    "perfectly logical" reasons why Slocum MUST have shot lunars! Why didn't 
    Slocum shoot more lunars on his circum-navigation? My guess would be that 
    fundamentally, he was enjoying sailing by "traditional" means. He left 
    science back home. In addition, he had no schedule to keep. He could afford 
    to be a little inefficient in his navigation.
    Of Joshua Slocum being lost at sea, you wrote:
    "I would concur with his son Victor's assessment of the likely cause, as 
    follows- For several years, Slocum had been setting off from his farm on 
    Martha's Vineyard on a Winter cruise to Grand Cayman in the Bahamas "to avoid 
    having to buy a Winter overcoat", returning each spring."
    Just bear in mind that Victor barely knew his father. After the end of the 
    voyage of the Liberdade in 1888, he saw his father only a few brief times. 
    That was when Victor Slocum was 16 and his father was 45, twenty years before 
    his death. He did not know how his father spent his time. He learned about 
    him from letters from relatives and from newspaper articles, and there are 
    big gaps in his account of the last decade of his father's life. In fact, 
    Joshua Slocum had become an entertainer, and this had begun during his 
    circum-navigation. He was a bit like "Buffalo Bill" Cody --a man of the late 
    19th/early 20th centuries living by selling stories of the past. Slocum 
    lectured and displayed artifacts in his presentations and used an early slide 
    projector for visual aid. He delighted his audiences with stories of his solo 
    circum-navigation. Joshua Slocum travelled to the West Indies every winter, 
    for the fine weather of course, but also because he could still sell tickets 
    to his lectures and shows there. He was popular, and he made money in the 
    islands. The longest obituary I have seen for Joshua Slocum was published in 
    Jamaica, rather than New England or New York. Slocum had left New England, 
    and his family, behind in a very literal sense. The "Spray" was his home.
    As for the "Spray", those who say they saw it in 1909 before Slocum left on 
    his last voyage universally described it as unseaworthy (Teller gives 
    numerous specific examples of this and directly contradicts Victor's 
    account). And years later, Howard I. Chapelle commented that it was an 
    unstable design that merely by chance had not killed Slocum sooner. It's 
    still possible that the more romantic family legend, about Slocum being cut 
    down by a steamer, is the plain truth. There would be a certain poetry in a 
    great sailor being killed by "progress incarnate". Even Victor acknowledges 
    that one can only speculate on his father's fate. It's guesswork and no more.
    And again, there's much more to Slocum's later life that you won't find in 
    Victor's book. If you want to read a more considered biography of Joshua 
    Slocum, I highly recommend "Joshua Slocum" by Walter Teller. Teller also 
    wrote several other books related to Slocum's life and his writings.
    Navigation List archive: www.fer3.com/arc
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