What is Circumnavigation


caravelf.gif (1436 bytes)For centuries the early explorers did not care how long they took to sail around the world. Simply, they were glad to get home with crew large enough to handle their ships. Usually it took couple of years to make their voyages, full of adventure and danger and along with many stopping to plunder the lands and the natives along the way and claiming the remains for king and queen were normal procedures during that time.

The reason for the first voyages was to find a way to the Rich East and to make profit, then to establish fortified bases in distant countries to secure the trade. Colonization and exploitation became the rule India for cotton, Indonesia for spices, China for tea and china, and of course Australia, first for disposal of criminals, rebels and anyone else who stood in the way of the Establishment and then for grain and wool.

In 1800s British shippers discovered that financial gain could be made through swift passages. First, they used American-built wooden fast ships like James Baines and Lightning for Australian trade, then they started building their own composite clippers like Cutty Shark and Thermopylae for the China tea speedy transport.

With fast ships came speedy voyages. At their best, these ships could dash to Australia in nearly 60 days, spent about a month off and on loading, then speed home in about 70 days, thereby going around the world in almost 160 days. Unfortunately those fast clippers were replaced by the larger grain-hauling barks like the Moshulu sailing well into the 1930s, until steam ships eventually replaced them.

galeon.gif (1658 bytes)Since Magellan and his crew proved that one could sail continuously in one direction until once again reaching one’s homeport, circumnavigating the globe has been aspiration of countless sailors. Probably the first yacht to circumnavigate was British schooner Nancy Dawson in 1850. Joshua Slocum finished the first solo circumnavigation in 1898. Then others followed their example of leisure cruising from one port or anchorage to the next, until 1967-68 when Sir Francis Chichester sailed from Plymouth to Sydney and back via Cape Horn for speed.

Sir Francis Chichester did not beat the clippers’ time, but he set the time mark for those who followed. Now the challenge became not simply to sail around the world, but to be the fastest to do so. More sailors, either solo or with crew, set out for circumnavigation and started to claim they were fastest. And here the trouble started.

As we know the speed is calculated as time over distance. During circumnavigation the time is done by our calendar system but the distance could be very different. Basically, to circle the globe means that you cross all 360 meridians of longitude. EquatCircum.gif (3139 bytes)If everybody would be able to do it on the equator, everything would be OK because everybody would have to cover the same distance for the speed claim. The problem is that you can cross all 360 meridians close to the North or South Pole and you may claim that you have done circumnavigation as well.

 PoleCircum.gif (10600 bytes)If you do it a few feet off the pole, you can be very fast too, but would it be fair to claim it as a circumnavigation?

So how to set fair rules for specification of circumnavigation, especially when everybody can start the voyage in a different corner of the world? The answer is very simple: you must at least follow a great circle. But what is a great circle?

A great circle is a line traced on the surface of the globe by a plane cutting through the sphere at its center. It is a largest circle, which can be drawn on the surface of globe.

meridian.gif (10263 bytes)All longitudes are great circles because the plane cutting through every meridian of longitude cuts through the center of globe as well as through North and South Pole. Unfortunately there is no way to sail just following meridians.

equator.gif (10474 bytes)If you put plane through the latitudes, only plane going through equator crosses the center of the globe and therefore only equator is a great circle. But again, you cannot sail following the equator, because the continents.

GreatCircle.gif (3660 bytes)The simplest way to prove that one followed the great circle is to put the plane through any point of one’s sailing, preferably through the start point, and through the center of the globe, and then to find the opposite point on that plane – the point called antipode. Simply put, if somebody’s journey crosses pair of antipodes, he sailed a great circle (most probably even more due to passing around the continents), and he can claim true circumnavigation.

If a trip did not cross a pair of antipodes, the sailing did not follow the great circle. It does not matter how much shorter voyage was, even if the passage was longer that the one done just around the pole, the claim for record has no merit and is doubtful.  

Looking back into history, we can find that when in 1522 Magellan and del Cano did first circumnavigation on 90 feet long Victoria, they circled 2 pairs of  antipodes. Magellan died during the voyage, but he visited Indonesia earlier, sailing around Cape of Good Hope and he circled the world. Circumnavigators from various countries who followed well into 1820 like Drake (four par of antipodes), Cavendish, Dampier, Cowley, Anson, Wallis, De Bougainville, Cook, Krusenstern and others followed antipode tracks.

Early mentioned ships like James Baines, Cutty Shark, Moshulu and others passed 2 pairs of antipodes. Joshua Slocum even crossed five pairs. Chichester, who studied track of old sailing ships and theirs claims for speed records, clearly set formula for circumnavigation in writing in his book as track with two points on the earth's surface diametrically opposite each other. In 1967, when he finished his solo circumnavigation for speed, he also claimed "true" circumnavigation as result of it.

After Chichester's circumnavigation with one stop, only nonstop circumnavigation was left to be done and in 1968 The Sunday Times newspaper announced Golden Globe trophy for first fastest nonstop solo circumnavigation. They set start and finish in the same port located north of 40 degree North and passing south of Cape of Good Hope, Cape Horn and Cape Leeuwin. Editors did not expected anybody sailing south of 40 degree South, except passing Cape Horn, and thus automatically follow the antipode rules. Robin Knox-Johnson was only one to finish the race in 312 days, however Bernard Moitessier did not finish the race, but he circled globe 1 1/2 times finishing in Tahiti and closing the loop first, he become first solo nonstop circumnavigator.

Few years later, in 1971, the founding editor of the Guinness Book of Records Norris McWhirter published Chichester's precedent as a rule which prevented shortcuts from being taken. For over 20 years, since 1970s to early 1990s this or a similar antipode requirement was so posted in the marine records tables of the Guinness Book of Records by Nobby Clarke who was solo circumnavigation historian and Guinness Book marine records consultant. Later with help of Richard Boehmer, who specialized in multihulls and continued in cooperation with Guinness Book for some time after Nobby Clarke retired in 1990 from this activity.

The antipode rule was respectfully followed since:

Sir Francis Chichester's Gypsy Moth IV (1967) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's Suhaili (1969) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Chay Blyth's British Steel (1971) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Alain Colas' Manureva (1974) - two pair of antipodes along the route
Dame Naomi James' Express Crusader (1978) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Philippe Monnet's Kriter Brute de Brute (1987) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Olivier de Kersauson's Un Autre Regard (1989) - two pairs of antipodes along the route
Over 100 finishers of the Whitbread (now Volvo) Round the World Races
and many more solo circumnavigators

Unfortunately the antipode rule appeared for the last time in the 1993 edition of the Guinness Book of Records and then disappeared with a new editor, of course soon the record claiming mess surfaced.

The British Royal Yacht Association solely oversaw the 500 meter straight line sailing speed trials until 1972 and then they created a special Committee. In 1988 this committee declared themselves as World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC) and expanded their "authority" to offshore sailing speed records. The WSSRC of course soon made their own rules, ignoring over 500 years old practice of antipodes, which even American submarine "Triton" observed during 1959/60 submerged world circumnavigation. By the new 1992 rules vessel must start and finish from the same point, must cross all meridians of longitude and must cross the Equator and the orthodromic track must be at leas 21,600 miles (calculated on a great circle of "perfect sphere"). You can see, that most new claims are only shortly longer. The old guys have no chance to survive. They also moved the barrier between small and big boats from 50ft to 60ft. No more antipodes are required but instead 1,200 British pounds fee is mandatory (I fill sorry for sailors from poor countries).

Also, by the paragraph 18 of their Rules "an individual record will be erased when a race record is subsequently faster". Well, the Council was never interested in history anyway. They do not keep track on old records, they do not know who really did what. They can only confirm your speed record on the base of their rules and their new data so long you fell in their category. How good they are? Looking at their website (July 2005) on table of Other Kinds of Sailing Records, one can see listed Joshua Slocum as a first solo circumnavigation who sailed from Boston to Boston. Everybody who read Slocum book know, that he started from Boston and finished in Newport, later moved to Fairhaven. Did they listed Boston to Boston just to match their own requirement?

Well, if you have 1,200 to spare, you can claim your record, but you cannot be sure that somebody did not do it before or after you and simply was not able pay the fee as old sea captains and old solocircumavigators could not do it. So, what now?

Who knows where the "Council" is going to be 10 or 50 years from now. All may turn back aligning with history. My suggestion would be to follow the established tradition with antipodes. It would be much harder to calculate and select some "short cut" truck just for claiming the record. Who needs that?

Even the "history approach" is not straightforward and clear. For example take first solo circumnavigator Joshua Slocum. He himself claims to circumnavigate globe since April 24 1895 until June 27, 1898. The circumnavigation is definitively closed loop. Slocum solo departure is from Boston and finished in Newport. So, he did not closed loop, at least it s not clear. Can we claim him as the first solo circumnavigator?

Slocum wrote that he sailed his trial-trip with his friend Captain Pierce, but how he sailed from Fairhaven to Boston and when? They may sailed together, what is very probable. Slocum was fishing unsuccessfully from Boston for whole season. It was probably then, when he start sailing Spray single-handedly. He spent also whole winter in Boston and led by the end of April, so we may add almost whole year to his circumnavigation time. He wrote that on July 3 he sailed (was he alone?) to Fairhaven, where hi de facto closed the loop.

Strict rule-followers may disregard claim that Slocum was first solo circumnavigator. Despite his questionable sailing from Fairhaven to Boston, he later set second solo voyage from Fairhaven to Europe, during which he was lost. During that trip he must definitively cross his first track from the Boston, so he definitively closed the loop. There were rumors that he took some passengers in West Indies. Slocum was a man who did not let go any opportunity to make money. We will probably never know if the rumors are true. We  certainly can guess, that any such trip would not lower quality of his solo circumnavigation. for Slocum she passengers would be nothing more than any other cargo. He was the first, who set the standard and any small derivation from today's practice should be accepted by my opinion.

Slocum was born in Nova Scotia - Canada. Solo circumnavigation is set by nationality of the sailor and not by vessel's flag registration. Was he Canadian or American? In his case we know, that his parents were American on English side during American revolution. His father was a Quaker, opposing war. After the War of Independence, like in Russian or other revolution, the winners exiled thousands of people who could not take sides or find themselves on wrong side and confiscated their property. In this case Slocum family left for Canada. Much later Joshua Slocum made his home in San Francisco, where he became American citizen long before his solo voyages. But this may not be so clear in many other cases.

Argentinean Vito Dumas was a first solo circumnavigator to sail in "roaring forties" south of all capes, something not imaginable to do by small boat at that time. He never passed antipodes but everybody accepted his circumnavigation simply because he was first and he done something what nobody else did before him.

Well, some sailors lost their boats and before they finished their trip, some of them sailed three various yachts. How to judge the "yo-yo" circumnavigation done by Adrian Hayter in 1950/60. What the "Council" will do? First he sailed from Great Britain to New Zealand via Suez on 32' long Sheila II and then he sailed 25' long Valkyr again from Great Britain to New Zealand, but this time opposite way through Panama, he closed the loop.

To solo circumnavigate in trade wind region through canals and passing the antipodes is much easier to do than sailing around in "roaring forties" and passing Cape Horn. If one starts such circumnavigation from Europe, most probably he would pass antipodes, but what about  sailors from BOC who set sails from Newport. Is their sailing less demanding and less valuable because they did not pass antipodes? I can tell you no, despite being only one sailor who passed antipode during all BOC races - it was accident anyway because I had to stop at Fremantle for repair after heavy knock down. And what about Vendee Globe sailors? How to reasonably compromise and make balance?

It seems to me that solo circumnavigation should be divided in categories as normal sailing is divided anyway (who can count all those classes?). By my opinion (that what you can find on my website) all sailors who sail around the world alone, passed all meridians and their track is longer than the Equator could claim that they did solo circumnavigation and therefore they are listed on my website by the date of their finishing. The listing deserve also solo sailors who rescued anybody as long as extended crew did not help them to handle the boat for the rest of the passage. It would be not fair to disqualified anybody efforts just for  providing help.

Definitively anybody, who wants to claim any record should pass antipode test - no exception!

Anybody, who passed antipodes deserves to be recognized as "True Circumnavigator". Also I think that sailors who passed all five southernmost capes deserve it's own recognition, especially those who did it the "wrong" way, the same as first sailors from each country. The solo around the world sailing races are separate categories and its sailors deserve to be listed as circumnavigators as well.  I think that nobody has any objection to differentiate women and men and monohulls and multihulls.

Following website pages contain data which were collected during few decades. I am aware that there could be many misinformation and I encourage everybody to send me any available correction. I would like to link every sailor to it's separate page with description of voyage,  map, some pictures, audio or video as well. This pages are created in little of personal free time and any your help will be highly appreciated. Thank you.

Richard Konkolski


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