The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 The morning snow was off the big flake variety and the garden soon had a good covering of the white stuff, everyone will now have a beautiful garden. By 1 o’clock in the afternoon, the cloud had lifted and blue skies appeared along with the sunshine, so for a while at least we had a beautiful Victorian, Christmas card scene.

After many adventures Captain Slocum reached Terra Del Fuego and the Strait of Magellan, battling endless gales and running the gauntlet of the native Indians, intent onboarding and steeling his boat, or at least whatever they could carry away from her. He made it out past Cape Pillar and into the Pacific Ocean, only to be caught in a fears storm, which he ran before, on bare pole, all the way south, finally, he was able to re-enter the Magellan Straits via the Cockburn Channel guarded as it is by the Milky Way. Once more he made his way up the Magellan Straits and this time made it clear into the Pacific Ocean and set sail for Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe’s Island), which he sighted 15 days out from Cape Pillar.

His description of the inhabitants he found there was fascinating.

“The people live without the use of rum or beer of any sort. There was no police officer or a lawyer amounts them. The domestic economy of the island was simplicity itself. The fashions of Paris did not affect the inhabitants; each dressed according to his own taste. Although there was no doctor, the people were all healthy, and the children were all beautiful. There were about forty-five souls on the island all told. The adults were mostly from the mainland of South America. One lady there, from Chile, who made a flying-jib for the Spray, taking her pay in tallow, would be called a bell at Newport. Blessed island of Juan Fernandez! Why Alexander Selkirk ever left you was more than I could make out.”

If such a place existed today, I would like to apply for citizenship right away.

 Slocum now sailed on to the Marquesas Islands the Samoa and Austria before crossing the channel to as he put it ‘give me chance to put foot on the shores of Tasmania, around which I had sailed years before’.

“in the snug place I left her in charge of three children, while I made journeys among the hills and rested my bones, for the coming voyage………….. My vessel was well taken care of. I never returned without finding that the decks had been washed and that one of the children, my nearest neighbour’s little girl from across the road was at the gangway attending to visitors, while the others, a brother and sister, sold marine curios such as were in the cargo, on “ship’s account.” They were a bright, cheerful crew, and people came a long way to hear them tell the story of the voyage, and of the monster of the deep “the captain had slain.” I had only to keep myself away to be a hero of the first water, and it suited me very well to do so and rusticate in the forests and among the streams.”

What comes over very well in this book is that old Slocum was a very resourceful man, he had been a sea captain in command of many ships, he came from a generation that if they did not have it or could not afford it, you made it, it matters not that it did not have the right label, it did the job and that is what mattered, that generation turning their hand to most anything. He was sailing at a time towards the end of Victoria’s reign, people would not travel much outside there own local community so were curious to see this strange American who was sailing around the world single-handed, how was that possible – when did he sleep? As word of his adventure spread before him, he was greeted wherever he went and people could not have done more for him. Ships at that time carried carpenters and sailmaker and his home-made patchwork sails, that he likened to Jacobs coat, was replaced by the generosity of a naval ship or on one occasion by an Australian yacht club. This is a rip-roaring tale of a different time in history. The bluewater sailors of today have sat-nav and autopilots, to aid them, Slocum had only his vast knowledge and sea time that served him well in fair and foul weather. I read this book many, many years ago and of course, hoped to emulate the great man, but as Joni Mitchell put it ‘Life got in my way’, I never left coastal waters in my boat and the only port outside the UK was France, but I have no regrets I am happy with my lot.

Stay safe

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