Mariner’s Quest


Which was, specifically, what? To fulfill, probably, what her captain wanted; which is to say that the true voyage of discovery depends not so much on the new landfall that may be made, or on the perils met and surpassed along the way, as on what the captain himself has in his heart when the voyage begins. Slocum had what Columbus had left for him: nothing much in the way of physical discovery, but a complete, untouched universe that could be found only in the examination of loneliness and solitude, a gateway opening into the infinite, which is finally the meaning of America.

Slocum was restless after he got home. He exhibited his vessel, posed for a time as a celebrity, picked up a few odd dollars here and there, and at last took off once more on a voyage across the trackless ocean. He never came back. In the fall of 1909, at 65, he sailed for South America, with some vague plan for wandering up the Orinoco and down the Amazon, and he never made port. The Spray ’s ancient seams apparently opened up in some heavy sea and that was the end. Or, possibly, it was the beginning.