Joshua Slocum, captain of the Spray.
Joshua Slocum meets Robert Manry
The Mystery of the Missing Leaf
We were excited to receive this message from Rich Baldwin during the winter holidays of 2009:
“I am forwarding to you a scanned copy of 1967 correspondence between my grandfather, Ben Wilcox, and Robert Manry. I found it in an autographed copy of the book Tinkerbelle passed on to me by my mother.”
The first letter (an unsigned, typed carbon copy), from Mr. Wilcox, is an appreciative fan letter written after he read Tinkerbelle, which he compares with Joshua Slocum’s classic, Spray. In this brief note from October 1967, Wilcox presents a cogent review of Tinkerbelle and its personal significance to him. He concludes by presenting Robert with an extraordinary gift that his own grandfather had received from the very hand of Slocum himself.
Next comes Robert’s reply dated December 1967, a handwritten thank you note on “Aboard Curlew” stationary from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Along with this message Manry included a copy of the family Christmas letter, written at Key West during their circumnavigation of the eastern U.S.
All three letters, followed by a transcript, are included below.
This all presents a mystery. Where is the leaf? The Robert Manry Project received many volumes from Robert’s personal sailing library, but Slocum’s famous tome was not among them. Perhaps somewhere out there, someone has the book and will someday find this remarkable botanical gem. If so, please take great care, and please… let us know!
October 29, 1967
Dear Captain Manry:
Having just crossed the Atlantic with you, I feel vaguely depressed by the “death” of the voyage – now that the anticipation, the excitement, the beauties and the hardships are all behind. There is this about it, however: while the same voyage cannot be resailed, a book can be reread. I have read Slocum’s book more than once – an autographed copy of which stands on my study table beside Tinkerbelle (also autographed) – to me the two real classics in the field.
I bought your book just after publication, and thereafter put it aside, to save for a convenient time which seemed never to come. When finally I did begin to read it, I could hardly put it down until I had finished it.
It tickled me that you had along the book on style by “Papa” Strunk, as we sometimes referred to him at Cornell (’35). I am sure he would be most pleased with your writing, which is a truly delightful example of simple and effective English.
Some years ago I built a Penguin class dinghy from scratch – not for racing, but for quiet enjoyment. While my opportunities to sail have been limited, I have had enough of a taste that I can identify with you wholeheartedly in the thoughts and feelings you describe so well. There was certainly a lot more involved than merely getting from here to there in a boat.
Enclosed is a little souvenir from Spray which I inherited from my father along with Slocum’s book. In a way I hate to part with it, yet I like the idea of passing this leaf, plucked by the hand of the first great single-handed sailor, into the hands of the second.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Dec. 12, 1967
Dear Mr. Wilcox,
I can’t tell you adequately how thrilled I was to get your letter and the memento from the Spray and the world’s greatest solo skipper. I will treasure both always, you can be sure of that.
It was kind of you to write and to mention my name in the same sentence with Slocum; a great honor for me.
I’m enclosing a copy of our Christmas letter, which I hope you’ll enjoy. I hope you’ll also enjoy the book to come about our present voyage.
Smooth sailing to you,
Dear Mr. Wilcox,
The temperature I Key West, where this is being written, is in the 80s which could hardly be expected to get us into the Christmas spirit. But we see by the calendar and store window displays that December 25 is not far off and so, despite the warmth, our thoughts turn to Christmas and absent friends.
Our projected year-long voyage around the eastern United States is now about one-third over in both time and distance, and it is pleasant to find that the intense togetherness imposed by life on a small boat has not caused any major dislocations in our plans or our relationships. Each of us is still speaking to the others – and this includes our German shepherd, Chrissy and our cat, Fred. There have been a few minor mutinies, or moments of strain between the generations, but those have been resolved quickly.
We are having a wonderful time, on the whole, and even Robin and Doug agree that we are collecting experiences, images and impressions that will enrich our lives. We have had remarkably good luck in weather, docking facilities and meeting our scheduled mail drops. To all who have written letters, our sincere thanks.
There have been some scary moments: Fighting to save our 27-foot Tartan yawl Curlew from being smashed against the dock during a severe thunderstorm in Sandusky, (Ohio) harbor, riding 20-foot following waves on Lake Michigan, being all but swamped by the mountainous wake of a Mississippi towboat, and fighting the chop in a dash across the Gulf of Mexico from Apalachicola to Clearwater, Fla.
There have been delightfully happy moments too: Visiting fascinating Canadian towns like Kincardin, Tobermory, Killarney and Little Current, and American Mississippi towns like St. Louis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans; exploring the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to the Southern tip of Florida, and best of all, meeting dozens of wonderful people along the way.
That has been the most memorable part of this odyssey: the people we’ve met. They have opened their hearts and homes to us without reservation; they have fed us, entertained us, educated us, bathed us and done our laundry. In short, they have made our voyage a great and happy experience. I wish we could mention them all by name, but there isn’t space or time.
If the remaining two-thirds of our trip are as pleasant as the first one-third has been, we will indeed be fortunate. As you may know, we plan to have Christmas on Bimini and then spend January and February exploring other islands in the Bahamas. In March we’ll start up the east coast, returning home to Cleveland via the Hudson, Lake Champlain Waterway, St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes. We expect to be home in July.
Robert, as always, will handle the skipper’s duties while Virginia conducts school for Robin and Doug and provides hot meals when needed, always a minor miracle.
That’s about it except for one last thing: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
[signed] “Bob and Virginia”