From the Archive — From the April 2015 issue

A Floating Freehold

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These two boats are the Captain’s sole companions. But he is adapted for this place; he has good health, good spirits, and a passion for the sea; he has learned to rise, eat, drink, and sleep as the water or winds decree, without regard to his watch; his wits are large enough to circumscribe the tide, breeze, waves, chart, buoys, and lights — also the sails, pilot-book, and compass — the passing vessels — and to cook, eat, and drink in the midst of all; so that, even apart from his disposition, he is not likely to have time to feel “lonely.” We shall let the Captain describe his boat after his own fashion:

“The Rob Roy is a yawl-rig, so as to place the sailor between the sails for ‘handiness.’ She is double-skinned to make her stanch and dry below, and she is full-decked to keep out the sea above. She has an iron keel and keelson to resist a bump on rocks, and with four watertight compartments to limit its effects if once stove in. Her cabin is comfortable to sleep in, but only as arranged when anchored for the purpose — sleep at sea is forbidden to her crew. Her internal arrangements for cooking, reading, writing, provisions, stores, and cargo are quite different from those of any other yacht; all of them are specially devised, and all well done.”

Thus prepared, the boat is hastily launched at three p.m. on the seventh of June 1867. She has a ton and a half of pig iron on board for ballast, is laden with the luggage and luxuries for a three months’ voyage, her masts are stepped, the sails are bent, the flags unfold to the breeze, the line to shore is slipped, and the Rob Roy leaves Woolwich, “never to have any person aboard her in progress but the Captain, until she returns to the builder’s yard.” And the Captain, with good reason, congratulates himself upon the comparison of his floating freehold, “to another home founded on London clay, sternly immovable, and with the quarter’s rent to pay.” We landsmen, who are accustomed to look upon the sea from the beach very much as we would look upon a picture, can scarcely appreciate the sailor’s love of the ocean. He does not view it in perspective; his life and his home are upon it.


From “Voyage Alone in the Rob Roy,” which appeared in the May 1868 issue of Harper’s Magazine. The complete essay — along with the magazine’s entire 164-year archive — is available here.

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