Spray (sailing vessel)

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United States
FateLost at sea sometime on or after November 14, 1909; cause unknown.
General characteristics
Class and typeoyster fisherman
Tons burthen12.71 (gross) (9 net)[1]
Length36 ft 9 in (11.20 m)[1]
Beam14 ft 2 in (4.32 m)[1]
Depth of hold4 ft 2 in (1.27 m)[1]
Propulsionsail only
Sail plansloop; yawl after November, 1895

Spray, was a 36-foot-9-inch (11.20 m) sailboat weighing nine tons that Joshua Slocum, a 19th-century Canadian-American seaman and author, rebuilt and sailed around the world solo. On the morning of April 24, 1895, the Spray, with Slocum at the helm, departed Boston Harbor. On June 27, 1898, Slocum sailed the Spray into the harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, becoming the first man known to have sailed around the world alone.[2]

On November 14, 1909, Slocum set sail from Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts aboard the Spray, bound for South America and the headwaters of the Orinoco River. He was never heard from again and no trace of the Spray was ever found.[3]


In 1892, Captain Ebenezer Pierce, offered Slocum a ship that "wants some repairs".[4] Slocum went to Fairhaven, Massachusetts to find that the "ship" was a rotting old oyster sloop named Spray, propped up in a field. Despite the major overhaul of the ship, Slocum kept her name Spray, noting, "Now, it is a law in Lloyd's that the Jane repaired all out of the old until she is entirely new is still the Jane."[5]

Its days as a fishing boat, probably as a Chesapeake Bay oysterman, had come to an end by 1885, and it was a derelict, a slowly deteriorating hulk sitting in a makeshift ship's cradle in a seaside meadow on Poverty Point in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, when Captain Pierce of that town offered it to Joshua Slocum as a gift. Slocum came to Fairhaven to look at Spray, and he undertook to repair and refit it over the next thirteen months. The materials used for the repairs cost $553.62, equivalent to $18,032 in 2022.[citation needed]

After setting off around the world in 1895, the boom was shortened after it broke and in 1896 Slocum reduced the height of the mast by 7 feet and the length of the bowsprit by 5 feet while in Buenos Aires. In Port Angosto, Strait of Magellan, Spray was re-rigged as a yawl by adding a jigger.[6] In 1901 Spray was an attraction at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.[citation needed]


An analysis by Howard I. Chapelle, curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian Institution and a noted expert on small sailing craft, demonstrated that Spray was stable under most circumstances, but could capsize under some conditions.[citation needed]

One of the many theories for the boat's disappearance suggested that her internal ballast may have shifted in a severe knock-down and thus unbalanced her. In his book, Captain Joshua Slocum, Victor Slocum, son of the solo seafarer, wrote that "the ballast was concrete cement, stanchioned down securely to ensure it against shifting should the vessel be hove on her beam-ends. There was no outside ballast whatever. Spray could have been self-righting if shoved on her beam-ends, a fact that was proven, since, by an experiment on an exact duplicate of the original boat and ballasted just like her. The test boat was hove down with mast flat to the water and when released righted herself."[7]: 280 

The time of 2 years and an endless effort made Spray not only a sea going sail boat, but also the first one to cross the high seas of the world including the Atlantic and the Pacific. Joshua not only replaced the old timber with fresh oak but also increased the freeboard ( height of shipside above water ) which made Spray more stable than any other fishing boats sailing around the time.

When Commodore John Pflieger pointed out in Spray, the journal of The Slocum Society, that a long keel is harder to go about in and that a boat similar to Spray foundered on a lee shore on this account, Peter Tangvald, who circumnavigated in his 32-foot cutter Dorothea I, replied, "How much more should Slocum have done to demonstrate that the boat was seaworthy? I would not hesitate to claim that if one Spray was wrecked on a lee shore it was because her crew needed a few more hours of sailing lessons."[8]

Self-steering ability[edit]

Spray was remarkable for its ability to hold its course for hours or days on end. Sailboat designer John G. Hanna said of Spray, "I hold that her peculiar merit as a single-hander was in her remarkable balance of all effective centers of effort and resistance on her midship section line," but cautioned that Spray was "the worst possible boat for anyone lacking the experience and resourcefulness of Slocum."[8]

Cipriano Andrade, Jr., an engineer and yacht designer, said of Spray: "After a thorough analysis of Spray's lines, I found her to have a theoretically perfect balance. Her balance is marvelous — almost uncanny. Try as I would — one element after another — they all swung into the same identical line."[7]: 281–299 

Slocum himself praised his sloop as "easily balanced and easily kept in trim."[7]: 280 


Spray has inspired many boat builders since, including The Spray of Saint-Briac, the boat of the French offshore runner Guy Bernardin.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Slocum, Joshua (1901). Sailing Alone Around the World. The Century Company. p. 10.
  2. ^ Teller, Walter (1975-01-12). "The Legendary Slocum Sailed Alone". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  3. ^ Teller, Walter (1975-01-12). "The Legendary Slocum Sailed Alone". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-11-07.
  4. ^ "Capt. Eben Pierce House". Fairhaven Office of Tourism. 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2022-05-10.
  5. ^ Slocum, 1900, p. 7
  6. ^ Slocum, Joshua (1919) [1900]. "Chapter X". Sailing Alone Around the World. New York: The Century Company. p. 127. "I also mended the sloop's sails and rigging, and fitted a jigger, which changed the rig to a yawl [...]"
  7. ^ a b c Victor Slocum (1950). Captain Joshua Slocum – The Adventures of America's Best Known Sailor, Sheridan House[ISBN missing]
  8. ^ a b Charles A. Borden (1967). Sea Quest – Global Blue-Water Adventuring in Small Craft, pp. 111–114.[ISBN missing]
  9. ^ "The Spray of Saint Briac, a replica of Joshua Slocum's Spray". BoatsNews.com. Retrieved 2022-11-07.