The Dory Shop

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada | (902) 640-3005 |

Stories from the The Dory Shop

The CALANOVA Chronicles Chapter 12 - The Amazing Schooner CALANOVA and Captain J. Slocum

It is well known that a certain Captain Joshua Slocum, formerly of Briar Island Nova Scotia and later California (beginning to wonder where the name CALA-NOVA comes from? Get it?) and then Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts, sailed around the world in the former oyster sloop SPRAY he had rebuilt stick by stick in Fairhaven Massachusetts. He was the first to ever single-hand sail a small vessel around the world. SAILING ALONE AROUND THE WORLD by Capt Joshua Slocum is a great read, to be sure. Still in print. Do not need to be a mariner to read and enjoy this yarn. Great stuff. Get it – read it…

The SPRAY of Boston

But is that the whole story? Was there, is there, more to it all? Well, our researchists have come up with LOTS MORE. In sketch form anyway. But before we get into all that it is worth pointing out that Slocum was not just some yachty guy with an old boat who got lucky. Plenty of those in recent decades but that does not describe him.  No, not at all. Not that there is anything wrong with getting lucky – all for getting lucky, but that’s not the whole truth. Or even the main truth.

The truth is that this here Captain Joshua Slocum, once of Nova Scotia, a true bluenose bucko, was a serious deep-sea, ocean-going, master mariner who had spent a lifetime at sea learning the vast intricacies of being a serious seafarer. “Master Mariner” is what they call a seafarer who is both experienced and credentialled enough to be the commanding officer of a ship. Back in the 19th century that meant being captain of any sailing ship afloat too. And our good captain was the master of more than one clipper-like ship in his professional career. Proceeded by years and years of coming up through ranks on the big sailing ships of the later 1800’s Slocum was a true master mariner. But being such meant more than that he could simply handle and sail such vessels and find his way around. No siree. Back then it also always meant that in addition to being a navigator he was likely a rigger, a sailmaker, and here we go, something of a shipwright too. And a serious believer in discipline no doubt.

With these skills he took the old SPRAY and rebuilt she into the new SPRAY. Just him. By himself. Oak and pine trees nearby felled and hewn. New clean strong wood replaced old rotten timbers. Only saved the air within. Soon out with the old and in with the new; keel, keelson, horn timber, stem and stern post, frames, shelf and clamp, knees, planks, deck-beams, decking, covering board, bulwark stanchions, waist planking, cap-rail, cleats and cavil rails, travelers, cabin trunks and hatches, rudder, spars of masts, boom, gaffs and bowsprit, blocks and then he caulked it all. Ballast, paint, cordage, water barrels, a compass, a dime store alarm-clock and his venerable sextant, already long at sea. Then, la di da, off he goes and sails by his lonesome around the world. Had some adventures he did and wrote the book. This had never been done before…or had it?

Joshua Slocum aboard SPRAY

Before the SPRAY there was CALANOVA.

We have it from sketchy and dubious but nonetheless extremely reliable sources that Slocum had already sailed around the world once before in something besides a clipper ship. This is shocking news. After he wrecked one of his ships somewhere, and captain’s gigs became a bit scarce, this earlier solo voyage was in the, you guessed it, Amazing Schooner CALANOVA – all around the globe, by himself mostly. A trial run, so to speak. A trip to test the waters, as it t’were. Get the lay of the land, sorta. Get a feel for this type o’thing kinda. We have learned that long before SPRAY was a gleam in his eye Old Josh had found CALANOVA droughing quintals of salt-cod to Barbados and turning around there and sailing back with barrels of black rum to Nova Scotia. Her owner/skipper Around Town Zinck was making a tidy living in this trade. One round trip in about a week. That’s pretty swift by the way, so Josh knew she was a fast packet – and an able one as well. So, Slocum made a deal with Zinck, and he got a hold of the schooner for a spell.

With his bronze sextant and old dime-store alarm clock, a few casks of hard tack, potatoes, apples, dried peas and flour and salt beef, a slab old rock-hard salt cod on a nail over the cook stove, he cast off from the wharf in Lunenburg and sailed southeast past Battery Point, past Rose Head, then due south across the Gulf Stream and past Bermuda and southwards. Soon after landfall at Anguilla bananas were hanging in the shrouds and sweet coconuts in half barrel on deck to drink. After dropping the hook at Road Bay to see the Gumbs family and the Schooner WARSPITE, off to quiet as a church St Barts where he quietly picked a few thousand cases of Mount Gay and Johnny Walker and headed for St Pierre, Martinique. This was of course before Mt Pele blew up wiping out ‘The Paris of the Caribbean’. Pretty grim that. He made a good buck there though and only a little smoke drifting from the mountains peak. Not too bothered about taxes at the time. It aint just red wine from France they liked at French Martinique but proper Rumbullion too. The local rum is spelt with an H, as in RHUM. Some cynics have suggested that the H stands for horrible. Maybe it does. Anyway, the good rum islands make their Killdevil from molasses and the French islands made their rum direct from clear fresh crushed cane juice. Got some bite it does. One shudders…

Onward south to St Vincent, the Planter’s Isle for some fine ground provisions, Bequia to get at two-bow boat for a tender to CALANOVA, NO MONKEY was the name on the bow, one of the bows anyway, then on to Grenada to see an old lady friend and get in a supply of cloves and nutmeg to keep foods for the long road ahead, and Trinidad, Brazil, Buenos Aires and then westward around Cape Horn. He was too wary of the Straights of Magellan - too many rocks and hard edges - so around the Horn it was, beating into the powerful gale force westerlies and huge seas for which that area was well known. Double reefed the fore-and main, set the tiller just so, and CALANOVA slashed around the Horn in record time. That year many ships turned back, some were dismasted (see THE CAPE HORN BREED, a voyage of the Full-Rigged ship BRITISH ISLES by William Jones) and limped into port. Other ships were lost entirely in the ice-cold seas of the Roaring 40’s. But CALANOVA was soon around this bleak corner of the worlds one ocean and taking a turn to starboard was bound NW in the South Pacific, headed for the balmy tradewinds that would take Josh through the tropical islands of Polynesia. All long before SPRAY set sail or could even ponder setting a sail.

Can’t tell the whole story here I guess, details are too sketchy, don’t have the time, need a proper writer for that job, but we gather that once Slocum got to Pitcairn Island and then to Mangareva, he and CALANOVA sailed from island to island, carrying a little cargo here and there, falling in love a few times, sailing onward, ever onward. Pitcairn Island and Bounty Bay were too rough to anchor, some of the lads sailed her around off the island so Josh could get ashore, where he got a hot bath and was loaded down with pineapple, mangos and coconuts – it had been a long road since the last fresh food had come aboard - and got a coconut scraper there, an indispensable culinary tool called an ‘ana’ or una. And bread sticks and breadfruit puffs too, damn these are good. Why did he leave? The schooner would make a good fish boat there, no? Good for trips to Henderson and Ducie too. Oh well, any way onward he sailed to meet up with Herman Melville in Typee Vai in the Marquesas. Why not?

Yep, gaze and weep. Its there. Where are you? CALANOVA sheltered behind us in the lagoon

Through the Tuamotu Archipelago with languid lagoons and island dance fests of a starry night and on to Tahiti where he met grand children of Tahitian-Bounty mutineers who had escaped capture by the HMS PANDORA. That’s another story.

Papeete, Tahiti in the Halcyon Days of Yore. CALANOVA just out of frame.


In Samoa he was part of an anti-German rebellion just after a cyclone, but taught the islanders how to make beer, now still being brewed under the name VAILIMA. In Tonga he got married before sailing off again. In Fiji he careened the CALANOVA and got some antifouling paint on she bottom. Important this.

Almost hard aground here in Mo’orea, aground on an affair of the heart.

Bora Bora when CALANOVA with Slocum in command had a peaceful interlude of some months.

Kava, root of the pepper plant chewed into a narcotic beverage by the daughters of the chief. I am not making this up. Tastes not so great (a mix of soapy water, kerosene and mercury, yum!) refuse at your peril of seeming rude.


Getting ready for an old time BBQ in Fiji. Calm down folks, only a staged re-enactment…I think…They swore to Slocum they had given it up?  Light or dark?

Slocum in CALANOVA fought in revolutions, quelled a few, made peace treaties, smuggled refugees, took sick folks from PukaPuka to the hospital in Rarotonga, revived tattooing, got the missionaries to settle down, learned the languages, dove for black pearls, sailed a vaka learning sky and wave wayfinding and kept notes, and sailed without his broken alarm-clock, and sobered up for awhile. Then on to The New Hebrides, The Solomons, around the top of New Guinea, through the Philippines where he fought off pirates and joined another insurrection before heading onto Borneo, Sumatra and Bali. He sailed right past Krakatoa as it smouldered and blew up, giving him quite a boost as he surfed that tsunami all the way Madagascar. Cut some time from his passage this did. I guess it was loud too.

KRAKATOA!!!! In Sunda Straights. Shock waves around the world.

After he swept off the ash and washed her down, she was as clean as new. He saved some of the ash for brushing his teeth and for a cousin that told him that fine volcanic ash makes the best iridescent glaze in firing of pottery. Who knew?

Table Mountain. Cape Town – Tavern of the Seas

Ever onward. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, St Helen, Senegal, France, England, Denmark, Azores and Baltimore, Ireland, Iceland and back to Lunenburg Nova Scotia. So many stories. Wish we knew them all.

Josh and the Amazing CALANOVA sailed past Battery point and came to the Adams & Knickle Wharves.  Found Around Town Zinck, gave him a small cask of JackIron as payment for the ‘charter’ (and a few black pearls…), took his sextant and sea chest, headed ashore to catch a train for Boston.

So many details must be left to the imagination for now. Maybe one day the whole story can be told of the famous Captain Slocum and Amazing Schooner CALANOVA. This task awaits.

Joshua had wanted to buy CALANOVA for the next trip, the one he wrote about, but he thought her name had too many letters for the title of the book and Zinck would not let him change her name to SPRAY or any other name, anyway. So, Joshua began making plans for rebuilding this old wreck he knew laying about propped up in a grassy field somewhere in the Boston States. But CALANOVA started it all. Funny how things work out. In 1909, after many successful voyages in SPRAY, Slocum sailed off from Martha’s Vineyard bound for the Caribbees once again and was never seen again.

Oh, yes, he was wrecked in CALANOVA three times, on Rangiroa, Juan Fernandez and Le Select Reef and rebuilt her each time. Good to know.