The Yacht "Spray"


I received the following email from Argyle, Scotland: "I have some photos of Spray sailing down the Sound of Mull on 20 July '08 - would you like me to email them to you? Good sailing......Clive"
NEW!! Photos of the Spray in Scotland
Submitted by Clive Brown of Argyle, Scotland

More Stories & Photos of Joshua Slocum's "Spray

This story was printed in the "Boating" magazine in 1968.

Fired by a legend, newlyweds burn their shore-side bridges to live and plan for South Seas on replica of Slocum's Spray.

By Jack Benz as told to Hal Hennesey

The Ancient Mariner and the Flying Dutchman had some terrible problems that I don't have, but in one respect I'm a blood brother to both of them-every time my little ship leaves port, I sail with a ghost. A benevolent ghost, to be sure, but a demanding one who will not allow me to make a big mistake and who rebukes me severely for the small ones.

The name of this ghost is Captain Joshua Slocum. My ship is the Spray. No, not just another small boat named Spray; my vessel is a gaff-rigged yawl, 36' 6" in length with a 14' 6" beam. Her 11/2" double planking is Georgia pine and her stem and keel are white oak, as are her 4" x 4" frames. Except for a change - an improvement, I think - in the dimensions of the cabin, mine is an exact duplicate of Joshua Slocum's original Spray, even to the style of lettering on her transom: Spray ... Boston. Actually, she is three inches shorter and four inches wider, a little deeper and a smidgeon heavier than the famed "sloop" that went around the world near the turn of the century and won a place for herself and her remarkable skipper in the salty pages of legend. However, only Slocum himself could possibly tell them apart.

Four years ago I was a landlubber. Not only had I never owned any craft larger than a rowboat - I had never even heard of. Spray, Joshua Slocum, or his book. But, through the years, while building a fairly profitable business as an electronics manufacturers' representative, I began building my own personal section of the Great American Dream. Seeing Clark Gable give Captain Bligh his comeuppance, and thrilling with Jon Hall as he fought off a hurricane and Dorothy Lamour - it had all given me a goal in life: I would one day sail a boat to Tahiti. By 1961, the movie-inspired dream had taken on more positive proportions - I began looking for the boat.I looked for an entire year, at the end of which I asked myself, am I serious about this, or am I just kidding myself, like most other armchair vagabonds who dream much but do little?

It was about this time that I wandered down to Dinner Key Marina in Miami with Barbara, my wife. to-be. Among many other boats we passed was a small yawl-rigged vessel with the name Spray lettered on her stern. As I say, I had never heard of the name; it meant nothing to me.

But the boat did. It was precisely what I had been looking for. Not that I had a preconceived picture in mind; as a landlubber, I couldn’t have. But this little yawl, with its weathered deck, stubby masts, and deepwater look, was like something out of Melville or Conrad; imaginary albatrosses flew above it and, even there in the calm of Dinner Key, you could almost smell the fresh trade-ins in the rigging and taste the salt of the open seas.

There was a For Sale sign on the boat. The owner, Dr. Charles Johnson, invited us aboard. There, as we sat in the spacious stern lounge and rode on the gentle swells that came in from the Stream, we learned something about Spray and about her illustrious predecessor. While the spell was still taking hold, Johnson took down a small book and handed it to me. "Here," he said, "read this." It was, of course, Sailing Alone Around the World. Barbara and I read it that evening.

Original Spray was a traditional gaff sloop, re-rigged as a yawl. Replica is almost an exact duplicate, except for gear.
Illustration from Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. Dover Publications Inc., New York 1956.

Next day I called up and told the doctor he had made a sale. And, just like that, we became a very minor part, but nevertheless a part, of the legend, and so acquired our ghost.

Our Spray does not yet have the history of which epics are made, but she has tried-in her own small way she has maintained the adventurous tradition to which she fell heir with the laying of her oak keel. That was in 1929, when her builder, Pete Culler of Oxford, Md., got the idea that it was time for the Slocum craft to live again. Culler, a well-known East Coast boat builder, knew what he was doing, as close inspection of the Spray will show. Doubtless he put something extra into this particular boat-possibly that something extra which I sensed upon first meeting her at the dock, that day.

After a dozen years of fun (although he never did find time to sail her around the world) Culler sold his conversation piece to Philadelphia's wealthy Brookes Bromley, who spent $60,000 refitting her in 1955-56. Frank Viano bought her the next year, and then Charlie Johnson took over in 1960. It was Johnson who breathed some of the blue water tradition into the revived Spray-when she was 30 years old. He sailed her from Boston to the Canaries, then to the Cape Verde Islands, Barbados, and Miami. It was in this port that the young doctor-having taken his bride on an 8000-mile honeymoon - decided to return home and begin a psychiatrist's practice. He didn't have the time to sail Spray all the way north, so he sold her to me.

I don't believe in halfway measures - I mean, if a man is going to make a fool of himself, why, he should go all out. And if - another interpretation - he's going to make his American Dream come true - he should do it with both eyes open. In other words, I sold my business, house, car, the works, and set off for Tahiti. The long route, to be sure. I got my feet wet on just one trip with Charlie Johns6n, who took me out for a sail on Biscayne Bay.

After a half hour's chaotic shouting, hauling on mysterious lines, and cascading on my bottom across an inclined deck; Tahiti suddenly became a distant, not especially attractive, blob on the horizon. I began to have third thoughts on the advisability of committing slow hara-kiri with a blunt bowsprit. But then Charlie let me take the wheel for a few minutes. I sat there, the easy pressure of the helm against my hands, the fresh breeze in my face and, in my ears, the murmur of the blue water sliding past the hull - that music which has soothed men's souls for ten thousand years and which I had never before heard.

Once again Tahiti became something real, something tangible, that loomed ever so near; now she was close enough to see, to feel and to smell.

We haven't made it to Tahiti yet, Barbara, Spray, and I - but we're getting closer all the time. After I sold out my profitable past for an indeterminate future, we cruised the Keys for a time, getting to know the boat and the sea. We discovered that our Spray, like the original, was designed for sailing around the world with the trade winds behind her all the way. Sailing against the wind was like trying to make water run uphill. On a broad reach she was adequate. But nobody's perfect, as the Volkswagen people say. Surely, no 36' sailing vessel was ever more spacious or comfortable than our somewhat capricious little home, and none was ever more seaworthy. We took her out, when we finally knew what we were doing, in 70 mph gales, and laughed aloud at her calm deportment in the violent seas.

However, since taking Spray through several thousands of miles of Keys and the Bahamas Islands, in fair weather and foul, I have come to the conclusion that Captain Joshua Slocum was an even more remarkable man than he is given credit for. And I think that only a very few of us-those who have sailed Spray herself - can offer a valid judgment. When I think of the equipment on hoard Slocum's ship as opposed to what I have on mine - all of it put aboard by previous owners - I cringe at the Spartan existence of that incredibly gutsy old man and wonder could I have made it on his terms?

Here is a list of my gear, none of which was aboard Joshua's Spray: radio direction finder, two depth sounders, radiotelephone, 3 kw Onan generator, hot water heater, air conditioner, water pressure system, refrigerator with freezer, water filters, autopilot, 10 ton electric winch, four-burner gas stove and oven-all except the stove operating on a 32 v system that makes Spray as self-sufficient, as, say, Skokie, Ill. Her auxiliary power is a 50 hp Hercules diesel that at times been indispensable.

No, we have not circumnavigated the globe nor sailed to Tahiti; but time and events change the face of adventure: Now adventure is flying 25,000 miles an hour toward the moon, and diving in a sardine can toward the earth's center. And, these days, adventure is Cuba.

In November, 1965, adventure came to Barbara and me when we learned about Castro's big-hearted gesture-he was going to allow all Cuban citizens who so desired to leave Cuba and migrate to the U. S.-provided they could find passage. This was before the airlift started. So, during a hectic period, that month, over 400 small boats rendezvoused in Florida ports in preparation for Operation Rescue.

One of them was Spray.

The Operation, and our part in it, is a separate story and not a pretty one. We were piled high with indignities by the petty Cuban officials and we saw men machine-gunned in the water as they desperately strove to escape tyranny. Some day I'll tell about it all. It is enough here to say that Spray did her part well. She helped bring back to freedom thirty luckless people who were fully prepared to die in an attempt to get out of Castroland. Now, for them, death seems far away. Like Spray herself, they have a new lease on life.

It was in 1909, ten years after he completed his fantastic voyage and eight years after the resulting book had made him world famous, that Joshua Slocum departed on a single-handed journey to the West Indies, one that he had already made several times. He was by then the world's foremost sailor and, surely, one of the most competent. But, even as Slocum himself well knew, there comes a time when those who live dangerously become overconfident; they become contemptuous of danger. And that is when they court death. Big game hunters know this, flyers know it, as do aerialists, steeple jacks, and bull fighters. But now and then the best of them make the obituary columns, not because they have lost their skill, but because they have too much skill.

At any rate, Capt. Slocum sailed off into the sunrise this time, and never did make his landfall. No end could have been more fitting for the old sea dog. There are even those cynics who say Josh was eccentric enough to have done it on purpose - just to add to his own legend. It really doesn't matter. He had lived a full and purposeful life, and he was unique among men. His book is a monument that will outlast the Sphinx. He could hardly want more out of life or death.

And for me, of course, the old man never died. He is at my side always, each time I venture out in Spray. Ease up on your main sheet, the soundless voice whispers in my ear, and, Trim the jib a hair, -that's it! Then, when the little boat is heeled over just right against the seas, and the foam hisses past at a comfortable rate, the voice is silent and - sentimental slob that I am! - I get the feeling that old Joshua is glad to have his stout little vessel beneath his feet once more, and I try to sail her the way he would want me to.

It's quite a responsibility.  

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