Circumnavigations Throughout the Centuries

This January, the 130’ trimaran Banque Populaire smashed the circumnavigation record by any craft with a recorded time of 45 days 13 hours 42 min and 53s. They flew around the globe with an average speed of 26 knots.  The human race has come a long ways since Ferdinand Magellan’s ship straggled into London after a 10 year circumnavigation. Following is a list of notable circumnavigations throughout history.

"Adios Capitan!"

1. Ferdinand Magellan – Trinidad - 1511 – 1521

The first circumnavigation. Magellan promised his crew the journey would take 3 months. Instead, it took 10 years and unfortunately, the ship would return to England without its captain.

Not understanding the phrase “strength in numbers,” Magellan led his 80 man crew in picking a fight with about 1500 Philippine natives.  He did not survive to tell the tale.


2. James Cook - Endeavor - 1768 – 1771

The first circumnavigation to not lose a single crew member to scurvy. In the landmark voyage, Cook mapped the entirety of New Zealand and discovered the East coast of Australia.  Early British sailors were known as “Limeys,” because they were forced by their officers to frequently drink lime juice in an effort to prevent scurvy.


3. Lieutenant James I. Waddell – Confederate Ship Shenandoah-1864-1865

The most violent circumnavigation and the precursor to today’s “Sea Shepherds,” Shenandoah remained at sea for 12 months and 17 days, traversed 58,000 miles (carrying the Confederate flag around the globe for the only time) and sank or captured 38 ships, mostly whalers. Waddell took close to one thousand prisoners without a single war casualty among his crew.

4. Joshua Slocum – Spray - 1895-1898

The first solo circumnavigation of the world. Slocum normally sailed his 36 foot oyster boat Spray without touching the helm.  Due to the length of the sail plan relative to the hull, Spray was capable of self-steering.   The ship sailed stably on any course by adjusting or reefing the sails and by securing the helm. Slocum sailed 2,000 miles across the Pacific without once touching the helm.

5. Robin Knox Johnston – Suhali-1965 – 1968

The first non-stop solo circumnavigation of the world. Johnston won the first ever around the world sailboat race, the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race (precursor to today’s Vendee Globe), aboard his 32 foot sloop Suhali. An eventful race, all of Johnston’s competitors dropped out and one committed suicide (an engrossing read here.)

Robin Knox-Johnston

6.  Louick Peyron- Banque Populaire V – 2012

Around the World in 80 45 days.  Banque Populaire V circumnavigated the world at such a speed one wonders if the record can ever be broken.  It’s possible. The strategy of Banque’s Skipper Louick Peyron was to stay fast but not furious, not wanting to risk a disastrous capsize as seen here. The strategy worked but it has also left open a window for a future crew to break Banque’s new record by throwing caution to the winds and pushing it to the limit. But for now, at an amazing duration of only 45 days, the record stands.

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