February 1999
- by Carol Standish

Book Cover

Any reader worth his/her salt will recognize Captain Joshua Slocum as the author of Sailing Alone Around the World, a personal account of his feat (accomplished in 1898) in a boat of his own making, the Spray. Far less familiar is his account of the Voyage of the Liberdade, (Dover Books; 118 pp: $4.95) probably because it has been out of print for most of this century—except in collections. Good news! Last year, Dover Books produced an unabridged republication (first printed in 1890) of the little gem and it can now be procured by hassling your local book store staff.

The book is worth every effort. In 1890 Slocum was a prosperous mariner and a business man, trading goods world wide. He was also a proud and devoted family man with two sons, Victor (born and bred on shipboard) and Garfield (born in Hong Kong Harbor) and a wife (unnamed in this account) who sailed with him. As the story opens the Slocum family and a crew of ten are leaving New York Harbor "laden with case oil" bound for Montevideo, capital of Uruguay in a "trim and tidy craft of 326 tons" called the Aquidneck. Adventures abound. The Aquidneck survives a hurricane in her first week out and a pampeiro ( a big wind from the pampas) as they approach Montevideo. The city is full of beggars on horseback. "Horses are cheap," observes Slocum. As the Aquidneck takes on and discharges cargo up and down the South American coast, topgallant masts are lost, the ship is quarantined for small pox, river pilots shake them down, they rescue a desperate, drowning dog in the middle of the sea, much to the delight of six year old Garfield. Crews come and go and Slocum, alerted by his wife, quells a mutiny.

All of these events are recounted in an easy, fluent style and a matter of fact tone as if they were common daily events. When his ship breaks up on a sandbar in a storm, Slocum comments on the disastrous loss, "this was no time to weep, for the lives of all the crew was saved; neither was it a time to laugh, for our loss was great."

Diagram of the Liberdade
What would you do, stranded on a foreign shore with family in tow and no ship headed your way? Why, build a boat and sail home, of course. This they did. "Madam made the sails—and very good sails they were, too!" The Liberdade was launched on May 13, the day on which the slaves of Brazil were set free. "Her model I got from recollections of Cape Ann dories and from a photo of a very elegant Japanese sampan…" She was 35 feet long and 7 ½ feet wide. In the Liberdade the Slocum family sailed over 5000 miles, from Brazil to Boston, with a winter stopover in Washington, D.C. "To say…that the Liberdade averaged a hundred and three miles a day for fifty-three days would be considerably inside the truth." (Slocum is calculating to U. S. landfall in the Carolinas.)

Naturally, in the course of such a journey, there are more excitements and adventures, but the greatest pleasure is in the revelation of the character of the author. Slocum is truly a world-citizen. He is respectful and appreciative of native peoples and their cultures, has taken the effort to teach himself many languages. His humor and his humanity shines through almost every sentence and the glimpses this Victorian allows into his family life are both funny and touching. If you haven't read Voyage of the Liberdade do, if you already have, do it again. You'll be delighted.

The Liberdade

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