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The Cruise of the Snark

Updated on August 8, 2014

Jack London's Snark

Jack London's ship the Snark
Jack London's ship the Snark

A true life story of adventure on the high seas

A wreck of a boat, drunken, incompetent and geriatric ship captains, storms, flesh eating infections and head hunting savages, this real life story of how the famous author and adventurer, Jack London, and his wife, Charmian, set out to circumnavigate the world on The Snark, a forty foot ketch of Jack's own design.

To be accurate, the Cruise of the Snark is not a book in the conventional sense. Instead it is a collection of the short accounts Jack London wrote for various magazines and sponsors while on the voyage.

Because it is immediate in that it was written at the time of the events, during the actual adventure, the writing has an almost 'dear diary' feel about it that is both honest and surprisingly candid.

The Lepers of Molokai

From San Francisco the Snark sailed to Hawaii and that included the island of Molokai where the famous leper colony was located. Jack, admittedly, approached the colony with dread, expecting to see all manner of horrible sights and ghastly visions of disfigured islanders. He was greatly surprised to find that it was one of the happiest, most delightful places places it had ever been is pleasure to visit.

A man of adventure

Jack London
Was, at one time, America’s most popular author as well as a much loved and revered adventurer. The respect with which he was held by his readers was derived largely from his obvious talent as a writer but also because it was well known that many of his adventure tales were based, at least partly, on his own, real life experiences. His early life reads like an Indiana Jones movie with Jack’s father abandoning him and his mother six months before Jack was even born. As a young boy Jack slaved his youth away in a jute mill under harsh conditions, struggling to breath in the lung-clogging, lint filled air. By the time he had finished grade school he had been a bobbin boy in a jute mill, as well as a cannery worker, and a coal-heaver in a power plant.

In his teens, Jack learned to sail and became an oyster pirate in the San Francisco Bay area before serving a stint on a sealing schooner in the infamous Bering Sea. He hobo’d in the western detachment of “Coxey’s Army” and was arrested for vagrancy in Buffalo, which resulted in him spending an extremely degrading month in the Erie County Penitentiary. This experience was to effect Jack profoundly.

In his twenties he participated in the Klondike gold rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory and even lived in London’s East End ghettos for a while. But it was also in his twenties that he became a professional writer and had his first book published. In 1906 he witnessed the great San Francisco earthquake, which he wrote a first rate account of forCollier’s.

It was in 1907 that he, along with his second wife, Charmian and a small crew of fellow adventurers, that Jack set sail on a ketch of his own design to sail around the world. This two year voyage aboard The Snark was filled with hilarious personal interactions and terrifying tales of cannibals, head hunters and brutal murders by savage islanders. In the course of their journey as they traveled to such remote islands as Hawaii, the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, the Solomons, Samoa, Fiji, the New Hebrides, and finally Australia, Jack and the rest of the crew were beset by a seemingly endless procession of diseases including malaria and pellagra.

Charmian's Log of the Snark

The log of the Snark
The log of the Snark

Read about the legendary cruise from the perspective of Jack London's wife, Charmian. Funny and engrossing til the very last page.

 

Jack and Charmian

Jack’s relationship with his wife Charmian was clearly one of equals, with her being considerably more equal than he! Her playful nature is clearly demonstrated by the way in which she insists her blood is more pure than Jack’s own and that’s why she wasn’t getting laid low by the myriad of skin conditions and other sicknesses that befell the rest of the crew. Not to be outdone in the arena of playful, jibes and devilish banter is the way in which Jack relishes the way Charmian is finally laid low by those some illnesses she mocked. Their marriage was clearly one of a deep, respectful love between two people that admired each other greatly.

It’s worth noting that Charmian wrote her own account of their voyage upon the Snark called The Log on the Snark (see Right)

House of the Sun

Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater

Haleakala Crater

One of the most spectacular things Jack saw on the entire voyage was in Hawaii, the Haleakala Crater or House of the Sun as it was known. This volcano, which is still ‘active’ but hasn’t erupted since 1790 rises 10,023 feet above sea level. The crater is 3,000 feet deep, 7.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide – a total of 22 miles in circumference.

The Snark

Jack London's Snark
Jack London's Snark | Source

Martin Johnson

I Married Adventure: The Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson (Kodansha Globe)
I Married Adventure: The Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson (Kodansha Globe)

Martin Johnson, a crew member and cook aboard Jack London's Snark, later went on to become a famous explorer in his own right. Along with his wife, Osa, they explored such remote regions of the earth as the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) where a tribal chief refused to let them go and they only escaped with the help of a British gunboat. They also visited the Masai warriors of Africa and they even went back to the Solomon Islands despite Martin's encounters with savage headhunters with Jack and Charmian London.

 

Where's The Snark?

Jack London's Boat The Snark?
Jack London's Boat The Snark? | Source

A Crew Members View

Through The South Seas With Jack London (1913)
Through The South Seas With Jack London (1913)

The Snark was home to one of the most famous authors in the world, Jack London and his wife Charmian as they set off to cruise the 7 seas. But what happened to the Snark after the cruise was over has remained a mystery. Learn more about the Snark and it's voyage through the South Seas from the writings of Martin Johnson, a crew member and famous adventurer in his own right.

 

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Did You Know?

Jack London's boat, The Snark, got it's name from Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark?

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