Circumnavigate: to sail around the world by water

Sailing around the globe is a fairly recent phenomenon in the context of mans time on earth. Some who chose to circumnavigate by sail include the circumnavigating voyages of the early explorers such as Magellan, Dumas and the greatest navigator, Captain James Cook. These brave men ventured to unknown lands, discovered unknown peoples, sailed across unknown seas and started a war of conquering nations – each rushing to claim ownership of lands far distant and disrupted and equilibrium that had been in place for thousands of years.

Circunmavigate the world

In recent times the challenge of being able to circumnavigate by sail has been somewhat overcome with satellite navigation, global mobile communication and high tech materials such as epoxy, carbon fibre and stainless steel. Despite this, any sailor that attempts a circumnavigation either alone or as part of a crew faces many dangers as the sea retains the some dangers and spirit that it did in the times of the early explorers.

Many people compare the feat of circumnavigation with the challenge of climbing Mt Everest. Although both represent a pinnacle in their respective disciplines, the fact remains that many more men and women climb Everest every year that have ever circumnavigated solo around planet earth.

To hear stories of sailors who have or will circumnavigate, listen to The Sailing Podcast where David and Carina interview the sailors of today and hear their stories about living aboard a yacht.

The first solo circumnavigator was Captain Joshua Slocum. His journey was extreme for the times. Nobody had ever contemplated such a feat of solo sailing. His sloop, Spray was a simple yacht which he lovingly restored and fitted out specifically for the journey. Captain Slocum was no greenhorn. He was an accomplished seaman with thousands and thousands of sea miles under his keel before the ground breaking voyage of the Spray. He sailed east to west around the globe visiting country after country where officials would greet him at the docks asking to see the rest of the crew. Time after time he had to explain the purpose of the journey – often to locals who feared he had actually eaten the crew enroute.

Over 60 years later the idea was born to see who could achieve the greatest sailing voyage ever conceived – a solo non-stop circumnavigation of the globe. With the temptation of fame and a large cash prize, nine sailors set out to claim the Golden Globe trophy. Of these, only one returned after a successful solo circumnavigation – Robin Knox-Johnson in his ever faithful Suhaili. So began a series of challenges and challengers as over the years men and women have sought to prove themselves against the forces of nature and against the master of the seas, Neptune.

Racing around the globe has now become an elite sport with circumnavigation now being counted in days versus years. Knox-Johnson took over 300 days to complete the voyage. Recent competitors in the modern day equivalent – The Vendee Globe – have over time reduced this to a staggering 84 days. This was completed by Michel Desjoyeaux in the 2008-2009 race. Since then, outside of the competition a new solo, non stop circumnavigation record was set by Francis Joyon on ‘Banque Populaire V’ at 45 days, 13 hours.

This year brings the next group of well funded adventurers to the 2012 Vendee Globe. We hope to follow their exploits and see whether man can still improve on the journeys of the old circumnavigators. A few of Magellan’s crew returned in 1522 with stories of storms, disease, attacks by natives and the death of the rest of the crew. Today’s circumnavigators report by the minute with positions, weather and boat condition. Is there a true comparison between the two? The one common thread is the humanity of a man. All circumnavigators risk their lives by going to sea and accepting the consequences. Our modern heroes establish safety factors that no other time could provide but the danger remains and mortality the common denominator.