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Jack London

Author and Adventurer

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The Cruise of the Snark

Jack and Charmian London sitting on bow
of Snark In 1906, London began to build a 45-foot yacht on which he planned a round-the-world voyage, to last seven years. After many delays, Jack and Charmian London and a small crew sailed out of San Francisco Bay on April 23, 1907, bound for the South Pacific. For the next year and a half, the Snark miraculously prevailed despite fundamental flaws in the design of the boat and the inexperience of the crew, who learned their duties en route. London taught himself how to use a sextant , and Charmian proved to be the most adept sailor on the crew, earning the admiration of her shipmates. After calling in at Hawaii, the Marquesas, the Solomon Islands and Tahiti, the ill and weary Londons reluctantly abandoned the voyage, proceeding by steamer from the Solomons to Australia in November, 1908, for a rest before heading home.

 


 

Martin Johnson with island native Martin E. Johnson. Autograph letter to Jack London, November 5, 1906.
JL 8466

Martin Johnson read of the Londons' planned voyage around the world and wrote to offer his services to the world-famous author. Jack and Charmian were delighted with the pleasant young man and, despite his complete lack of culinary experience, invited him to join the crew as cook. Johnson proved to be able in many capacities and was the only crew member to stay with the Londons through the entire voyage.

Johnson went on to establish his own fame as an adventurer and photographer, traveling the world over with his wife Osa.

 

The Cruise of the Snark book cover Jack London. The Cruise of the Snark, first edition, New York, Macmillan and Company, 1911.
RB 470889

In a series of essays, London wrote the story of the Snark voyage -- the rigors and rewards of an inexperienced crew sailing across the Pacific, the elation of sighting first land-fall in Hawaii, the excitement of fending off marauding villagers in the Solomon Islands, and the rewards of cutting through bamboo and palm trees to reach the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson in Western Samoa.

The essays appeared separately in 1908-1910 in several periodicals, including Woman's Home Companion, Pacific Monthly, and Harper's Weekly before being gathered together and published in book form as The Cruise of the Snark.

 

Photograph of the Snark The Snark left Hawaii on October 7, 1907, and arrived in the Marquesas two months later, on December 6. Halfway along the traverse, London discovered that he and his crew had unwittingly chosen the most difficult course possible, one that doubled the 2,000 miles to be traveled and subjected the yacht to treacherous cross-currents, capricious winds and unpredictable calms. With delays slowing the crossing, and with the water supply becoming alarmingly low, the crew's plight became desperate on November 20 when they discovered that over half the remaining water had accidentally been lost.

 

Cover of the Wonders of the South Seas Program "Wonders of the South Seas." Program for the Victoria Palace, London, 1913.
JLE 168

After the Snark voyage ended, Martin Johnson launched a career as a travelogue lecturer, first in his home town of Independence, Kansas. There he and a partner converted a drug store into the Snark Theater, seating 340 and with an interior designed to look like a ship. He later took his act on the road throughout the U.S. By 1913, he arrived in London, where his show opened in March at the Victoria Palace. The lecture included hand-colored lantern slides made from his own original negatives, as well as other images.

 

More images of the Snark

Photograph of the Snark Photograph of the Snark

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