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“At Yarmouth, too, I got my famous tin clock, the only timepiece I carried on the whole voyage. The price of it was a dollar and a half, but on account of the face being smashed the merchant let me have it for a dollar.”

She was a simple oyster sloop, but it is how the Spray was sailed that was extraordinary – “The most perfect, for her purposes, ever conceived,” – her helm could be lashed for days on end, her navigation system the famous one dollar ‘tin’ clock and the Captain’s lifetime on the sea.

His old marine chronometer, a sailor’s precision timepiece, needed $15 worth of repairs. Having just spent all he had to make the Spray seaworthy, Captain Slocum balked at the expense, the timepiece being a mere convenience.

He didn’t need any clock – and he knew it. This voyage would prove the worth of old ways, and would defy the technology that threatened to put him over the bar.

Sailing alone around the world could be done, and he could do it. An old, past-prime sloop, sailed by an old (seemingly) past-prime sailor, could be made perfect for it. A lifetime at sea teaches the art that makes it possible – an art that would be lost within a generation. Captain Slocum could determine his global position by reading the stars – original GPS ‘technology.’

“If I doubted my reckoning after a long time at sea I verified by reading the clock aloft, made by the Great Architect, and it was right.”

Considering the one dollar tin clock is an exercise in proving both truth and legend. Even if Captain Slocum did not technically need it to sail, the clock became an important set piece and central to his carefully cultivated legend. And so, the clock is often believed to be a legend.

The clock was, indeed, real. In Walter Magnes Teller’s introduction to a later edition of Sailing Alone Around the World, he refers to artists Thomas Fogarty and George Varian confirms their first-hand knowledge of Slocum and everything aboard the Spray. Their original sketch of Slocum’s clock appears in in an early chapter: “Their sketches are authentic as well as delightful, for Slocum worked with them.”

“Of course we saw the famous alarm clock, which had to be boiled before it would run.”

President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Archie Roosevelt, sailed along the coast of Long Island with Slocum in August of 1906, noting and later writing of the clock aboard the Spray (needing to be boiled of encrusted salt from sea spray). Archie surely recognized it from the sketch in Slocum’s bestselling book, but he saw something else to seal both the legend and the truth of Captain Slocum’s navigation skills: “Beyond my comprehension were his sheets of calculations for the lunar observations he had made single-handedly — a feat, I believe, which is supposed to require three people to work out.”

The Little Lord Fauntleroy, manufactured circa 1890

The famous clock has since been identified as a model manufactured by the E.N. Welch company, a Forestville, Connecticut, clock maker active in the mid through late 19th century. (See Resources & Links)

Rather than tin, the Little Lord Fauntleroy model was made of brass and nickel-plated, but probably called “tin” by the Captain as a colloquialism. It was really a small timepiece, made without a second-hand, measuring in total only 2 inches high by 2 ¾ inches wide, with a face the size of a large wristwatch. Early sketches are likely out of proportion, suggesting a larger clock. Considering the clock was little more than a bedside table timepiece, that irony would not be lost on Captain Slocum.

The original ‘tin’ clock was lost at sea, along with the Spray and the Captain. Antique-hunters might find a similar surviving tin clock, wind it, and look up at the stars.