What is Solo 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. 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. 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.

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. With financial gain to be made through swift passages, the shippers started building fast ships and demanded 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, until steam ships eventually replaced them.

galeon.gif (1658 bytes)Since Magellan and his crew proved in 1522 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 finishing in 1850. Joshua Slocum did the first solo circumnavigation over one hundred years ago. 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.

He 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 has no merit and is doubtful.  

Looking back into history, before Sir. Francis Chichester's circumnavigation in 1966-67, one can find that so call "circumnavigators" followed the antipode rules. Magellan passed 2 pairs of antipodes with his 90 ft long Victoria. Well, Magellan died and del Cano brought the ship to homeport, but Magellan sailed to Indonesia earlier via Cape of Good Hope. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the right way as well as Cavedish, Van Noort, Dampier, Cowley, Woodes Rogers, Cliperton, Schouten, Anson, Cook, Krusenstern and many more.

In the 1800s shippers discovered that the better profit could be made by fast passages and pushed their captains for fast speed. First, the American-built wooden ships as Lightning an James Baines took emigrants to Australia and goods back. Later, the British built their own clippers like Thermopylae and Cutty Sark. Those ship could sail to Australia in 60 days, loaded ship and went back in 70 days, rounding the globe in 160 days. The circumnavigation speed started to be recorded. For example James Baines circumnavigated in 160 days passing 2 antipode pairs. The Cutty Sark did it in 269 days also around two antipodes.

Later, clippers were replaced by larger and heavier grain-hauling barks. For example Moshulu was sailing well into the 1930s. Her circumnavigation in 1939, around two antipodes, took 235 days

Sir Francis Chichester was the first sportsman sailor to circumnavigate for speed breaking record on his 57' Gipsy Moth IV. He was inspired by Australian clippers, he wanted duplicate their route and break their record time. In his book, after study of sailing ships tracks, he also clearly established the true circumnavigation as a route around two antipodes. Actually his record setting solo sailing one stop route passed two pairs of antipodes. He also carried on the deck the log of Cutty Sark's circumnavigation of 1885. If somebody else wanted to break his record, he definitively should follow already set rules.

There was left only one thing to do - the solo nonstop circumnavigation and soon The Sunday Times newspaper announced in March 1968 a Golden Globe trophy for the first and the fastest nonstop solo circumnavigation. The rules did not required antipodes, but set sailing around Cape of Good Hope, Cape  Leeuwin and Cape Horn with start and finish in any port north of  40 degree North, which automatically set the the antipodes route. Nine solo sailors took a part. French Bernard Moitessier could easily win, but he changed his mind and instead sailing North for finis he continued around landing in Tahiti. He sailed one and half way around, became first solo nonstop circumnavigator but he did not finish the race. Robin Knox-Johnston reached his starting point, passed two antipodes and won the Golden Trophy.


The same year the first round the world crewed Whitbread

Also the Guinness Book of Records required a passage to contain at least one pair of antipodes to be considered a circumnavigation.

All above describes what is circumnavigation. The solo circumnavigation means that sailor should do the circumnavigation alone. This condition caused already many discussions.

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