Joshua Slocum (February 20, 1844 – on or shortly after 14 November 1909) was an American seaman and adventurer, a noted writer, and the first man to sail single-handedly around the world. He disappeared in November 1909 while aboard his sloop-rigged fishing boat that he had named the Spray.
Joshua Slocum was the fifth son of John Slocum and Sarah Jane (Southern) Slocum. Born in Wilmot, Nova Scotia, he ran away from home at the age of twelve and earned a living as a cabin boy among the fishermen of the Bay of Fundy. At sixteen he shipped "before the mast", working a passage to England, where he joined the British vessel Tanjore as an ordinary seaman. Working the trade routes between Britain and the Far East, Slocum rose in the ranks to become a chief mate on British ships transporting coal and grain between the British Isles and San Francisco. In 1865 he made San Francisco his home port and applied for United States citizenship. In 1869, at the age of 25, he was given command of a schooner working between San Francisco and Seattle.
Slocum spent most of his life at sea. When shipwrecked on his way to Montevideo in 1887, he sold the wreckage, paid off his crew and built the Liberdade, a 35-foot junk-rigged boat, in which he and his family sailed home to Washington, DC. In 1894 he published Voyage of the Liberdade describing this adventure.
In Boston, he rebuilt the 36′ 9″ (11.2 metre) sloop-rigged fishing boat that he named the Spray (later re-rigged as a yawl after problems he encountered in the Strait of Magellan). On April 24, 1895, he set sail from Boston, Massachusetts. More than three years later, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island, on June 27, 1898 having circumnavigated the world, a distance of 46,000 miles (74,000 km).
In 1899 he described the voyage in Sailing Alone Around the World now considered a classic of travel literature. It is a wonderful adventure story from the Age of Sail and a book of which Arthur Ransome declared, "boys who do not like this book ought to be drowned at once" .
In November 1909 he set sail for the Orinoco River in Spray and disappeared. It was assumed he was run down by a steamer or struck by a whale, the Spray being too sound a craft and Slocum too experienced a mariner for any other cause to be considered likely, and in 1924 he was declared legally dead. Although the disappearance has since often been linked to the many disappearances of the Bermuda Triangle, there is no evidence that the vessel was even in that area of the ocean when it vanished.
In the 1960s long-distance French sailor Bernard Moitessier christened his 39-foot ketch-rigged boat Joshua in honor of Slocum. It was this boat that Moitessier sailed from Tahiti to France, passing through six days and nights of deadly storms near Cape Horn. He sailed Joshua in the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race around the world, making great time, only to drop out near the end and sail on to Tahiti.
An underwater glider, a type of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), designed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was named after Slocum's ship Spray. It became the first AUV to cross the Gulf Stream . Ferries named in his honour (Joshua Slocum and Spray ) served the two Digby Neck runs between 1973 and 2004. The Joshua Slocum was featured in the film version of Dolores Claiborne.
Slocum's life was given novelistic treatment by author Cameron Royce Jess in the award-winning 2004 release Soul Voyage.
Over the years since Slocum's death a number of attempts at more or less reconstructing the Spray have been undertaken, with various degrees of success.
The Slocum River in Dartmouth, Massachusetts was named for him.