The Cruise of the Snark

The Cruise of the Snark (1911)[1] is a non-fictional, illustrated book by Jack London chronicling his sailing adventure in 1907 across the south Pacific in his ketch the Snark. Accompanying London on this voyage was his wife Charmian London and a small crew. London taught himself celestial navigation and the basics of sailing and of boats during the course of this adventure and describes these details to the reader. He visits exotic locations including the Solomon Islands and Hawaii, and his first-person accounts and photographs provide insight into these remote places at the beginning of the 20th century.

About the Snark

In 1906, Jack London began to build a 45-foot yacht on which he planned a round-the-world voyage, to last seven years.

The Snark was named after Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark. She had two masts and was 45 feet long at the waterline[2] and 55 feet on deck,[3] and London claimed to have spent thirty thousand dollars on her construction. She was primarily sail power; however, she also had an auxiliary 70-horsepower engine. She carried one lifeboat.

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.[4]

We ran down the Langa Langa Lagoon, between mangrove swamps through passages scarcely wider than the Minota, and passed the reef villages of Kaloka and Auki. Like the founders of Venice, these salt-water men were originally refugees from the mainland. Too weak to hold their own in the bush, survivors of village massacres, they fled to the sand-banks of the lagoon. These sand-banks they built up into islands. They were compelled to seek their provender from the sea. They developed canoe-bodies, unable to walk about, spending all their time in the canoes, they became thick-armed and broad-shouldered with narrow waists and frail spindly legs. (p 138)[5]

I sailed in the teak-built ketch, the Minota, on a blackbirding cruise to Malaita, and I took my wife along. The hatchet-marks were still raw on the door of our tiny stateroom advertising an event of a few months before. The event was the taking of Captain Mackenzie's head, Captain Mackenzie, at that time, being master of the Minota. ... As we sailed in to Langa-Langa on the shore side of the lagoon, was Binu, the place where the Minota was captured a year previously and her captain killed by the bushmen of Malaita, having been hacked to pieces and eaten. (p. 135)[6]

The log of the Snark states:

... still bore the tomahawk marks where the Malaitans at Langa Langa several months before broke in for the trove of rifles and ammunition locked therein, after bloodily slaughtering Jansen's predecessor, Captain Mackenzie. The burning of the vessel was somehow prevented by the black crew, but this was so unprecedented that the owner feared some complicity between them and the attacking party. However, it could not be proved, and we sailed with the majority of this same crew. The present skipper smilingly warned us that the same tribe still required two more heads from the Minota, to square up for deaths on the Ysabel plantation. (p. 387)[7]

One of London's crew members was young Martin Johnson from Kansas. Following the cruise of the Snark, Martin became an adventurer and world traveler, making some of the earliest motion pictures of unexplored or less-explored areas and peoples of the earth.[8]

Locations visited by the Snark

The Londons ended their voyage at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and travelled to Sydney on the steamer SS Makambo. Jack spent five weeks in a hospital recovering from infections and illness. A skeleton crew brought the Snark from the Solomons to Australia where she was sold for a fraction of the build-costs. The Londons departed Australia on the SS Tymeric, bound for Ecuador April 8, 1909.

Media coverage

London's voyage garnered some media attention from the point when he first set out into the Pacific.[9] Concern was raised that the Snark might be lost when London failed to arrive in the Marquesas Islands on schedule.[10]

Jack London's The Lepers of Molokai first appeared as articles in the Woman's Home Companion (1908) and the Contemporary Review (1909). [11] Additional essays from the voyage also appeared in The Pacific Monthly and Harper's Weekly prior to publication of the Cruise of the Snark. [12]

Charmian Kittredge London subsequently wrote three books detailing their adventures aboard the Snark and their extended visits in Hawaii:

  • The Log of the Snark (1915)[13]
  • Our Hawaii (1917)[14]
  • Our Hawaii: Islands and Islanders (1917)[15]

These works provide daily details on the activities of the crew. A comparison with Jack London's book reveals how he highlighted episodes of most interest to his readers, such as surfing. Charmian London's books reveal much more description of the cultures they encountered, along with criticism of the effects of colonization.[16] Tucker notes how Charmian distinguishes her accounts from prior women travelog writers in being the sole woman with an all-male crew. This leads to her close reading of gender and hierarchies throughout the voyage.


  1. London, Jack (1911). The Cruise of the Snark. "The Macmillan company". Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  2. "The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London".
  3. "Jack London: Sailor". BoatUS website.
  4. Jack London "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-01-09. Retrieved 2012-06-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. Jack London (1911). The Cruise of the Snark. Harvard University Digitized January 19, 2006.
  6. Log of the Stark
  7. The Log of the Stark
  8. Johnson, Osa, I Married Adventure, first published 1940, reprint by Kodansha Globe, New York (1997).
  9. "Jack London Starts on a Long Cruise" (PDF). The New York Times. April 24, 1907. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  10. "FEAR JACK LONDON IS LOST IN PACIFIC". The New York Times. January 10, 1908. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  11. "The Huntington Library: Tales from the South Pacific". Archived from the original on January 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  12. "The Huntington Library: The Cruise of the Snark". Archived from the original on January 9, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  13. London, Charmian (1915). The Log of the Snark. Macmillan. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
  14. London, Charmian (1917). Our Hawaii. Macmillan. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  15. London, Charmian (1922). Our Hawaii: Islands and Islanders. Macmillan. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  16. Tucker, Amy (2017). "Charmian's 'One True' Log of the Snark". Women's Studies. 46 (4): 362–387.
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