Saturday, September 11, 2010

Some Interesting Circumnavigators

I think of Joshua Slocum as the first world cruiser. In 1895 he set out from Boston in an old wooden sloop that he rebuilt, and sailed solo around the world by way of Cape Horn, Torres Straits and Cape Agulhas. The Spray, as it had been named years before he owned it, had the following dimensions:

LOA: 37'
Beam: 14'
Draft: 4'-2"

When the Spray left Boston in 1895 it had a 14' long bowsprit and a 34' boom, In South America Slocum shortened them to about 10’ and 25’ to make the boat easier to handle. Still, the fifty-something year old Slocum had to be fairly acrobatic to set, reef and douse its sails.  Another interesting fact is that the Spray had no cockpit for shelter at sea, no self steering gear and no winches. Everything aboard the Spray, including the anchor windlass, was ‘handraulic’. Slocum must have been the epitome of a sailor in every sense of the word to sail that boat single-handed around the world. Since his historic voyage, many people have circumnavigated the globe.

One thing Slocum wrote in his classic narrative of his voyage was that you need not be an expert sailor to circumnavigate, and that point has been emphatically driven home recently. I refer you to seventeen year old Zac Sunderland, who managed to stagger around the world in an old Islander 36, and the even younger Jessica Watson who accomplished a solo nonstop circumnavigation in a Sparkman & Stephens 34. One of the most interesting recent circumnavigations was that of Pat and Ali Schulte in their 35 foot catamaran. I highly recommend their lighthearted and amusing book about their travels. You can find it at

One of my favorite circumnavigators was Harry Pidgeon. Harry built his 34 foot Seagoer yawl on the beach in San Pedro, California. Harry was a rafter, a rambler, an accomplished photographer and a pretty good story teller too. His book, “Around the World Singlehanded: The Cruise of the ‘Islander’” is well worth searching for. I always admired the calm, confident way he set about building his boat and simply sailing over the horizon. You can find out more about this fascinating sailor at:

It’s interesting to note that all five of these circumnavigations were done in boats with an average length of about 35 feet, none of which was designed or built with such ambitious voyages in mind. Yet these fairly average people ranging in age from 16 to pretty old achieved these admirable goals without any serious problems.  You can find a list of notable circumnavigators at

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