Circumnavigation or Sailing Around the World

Sailing around the world. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Circumnavigation has always been sort of an obsession of humanity. Since people made the first boat and started sailing and travelling with boats, there was this question: “How far am I able to sail with a boat?” In the beginnings, people only travelled short distances, usually within the same continent because they didn’t know for the existence of other continents. Those travels were predominantly by merchants who were selling their goods. And spontaneously with trade travels, the other kind of travelling by boat came to existence – the exploration kind. But first, let’s tackle the definition of circumnavigation.

What Does Circumnavigation Mean?

Circumnavigation is a complete navigation around an island, continent, a planet or, in modern days, astronomical body like Earth or the Moon.

In this blog post we will focus on sailing around the world. And not the astronomical kind, but the ‘simple’ water-travelling kind. The reason is because that kind of circumnavigation includes sailing. And by sailing, we mean whole lotta sailing.

Exploration of Ancient World

Exploring in the anceint world was quite a bit different than it is today. Nowadays you can simply buy cheap plane tickets and find yourself on other side of the planet in no-time. Famous explorers of the ancient world are Herodotus and Abu Al Hasan Al Masudi. They were both writers, historians and, you’re guessing, explorers. They gave us some of the best descriptions of the ancient world. And they’re quite extraordinary. Let’s get to know the first travelers by boat.

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Herodotus is one of the main sources of information when it comes to the ancient world. His writings are exceptional even for today’s standards. He is best known for his description of events because he wasn’t bothered so much with the actual facts as much as he wanted to transfer the emotion or atmosphere of the certain even to the reader.

That’s why his numbers are mostly off. Quite often off by far. He is famous for his description of Greco-Persian Wars and as the father of history and other social sciences such as ethnography. He is also the first who has described the process of mummification.

Other than by his historiographic work, Herodotus is also known for his, in that time, immense travelling. He was the greatest explorer of his time and he traveled throughout all known world. He has been to Africa and to the Middle East, which is very far away from his home town of Halicarnassus considering it was 400 BC. In his travel he has encountered a lot of different people and cultures which he had the privilege of describing first.

In many ways Herodotus travels inspired all the explorers that came after him. And one of such was Abu Al Hasan Al Masudi.


Abu Al Hasan Al Masudi

Abu Al Hasan Al Masudi comes more than a thousand years after Herodotus, but his travels quickly became as well-known throughout all the known world. Much like Herodotus, he was also a historian, but also a geographer. He spent most of his life travelling. Masudi has been to East Africa, the Middle East, Persia, Russia, India and China which is extraordinary considering that he was alive at the end of first century.

He is often called ‘the Herodotus of the Arabs’ and all his travels are combined in the book ‘The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems’.

These two, along with other great explorers of the ancient times set path for all the great explorers that most people know today. We can say that they, in many ways, make up what will soon be known as circumnavigation.

The Beginnings of Circumnavigation

After the Antics, things started to get better for circumnavigation. The world has started to get bigger as other parts of the world were discovered. America was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Abel Tasman discovered Australia in 1642. Between people discovering those two nowadays continents, the first circumnavigation took place. But before we go ahead to the first successful circumnavigation, let’s take a look at some of the most famous explorers and how has their discoveries made the first circumnavigation possible.

Famous Explorers

Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506)

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer. Columbus made four ground-breaking voyages to the Americas. The first journey was in 1492 and Columbus got to the Bahamas believing he came to India. Sailing in uncharted seas, Columbus greatly extended the knowledge of crossing the Atlantic and paved the way for the Spanish conquest of the two Americas.

Christopher Columbus was born in the Republic of Genoa, in what is today Northwestern Italy. Columbus learned to sail from an early age and later worked as a business agent, travelling around Europe to England, Ireland and later along the West coast of Africa. Christopher Columbus was a believer in the spherical nature of the world (some Christians still held the view that the world was flat). An ambitious man, Christopher Columbus hoped to find a Western trade route to the lucrative spice markets in Asia. Rather than sailing East, he hoped that sailing West would lead to countries like Japan and China.

Vasco de Gama (1469 – 1524)

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who was the first European to reach India by sea. Da Gama made a direct voyage to India – travelling around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa – arriving in Calicut in 1498.

Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese explorer who became the first European to successfully navigate a naval route from Europe to India. The Portuguese had a strong naval tradition and had already sent ships down the west coast of Africa in search of gold and slaves. Portuguese ships had got as far south as the southern tip of Africa, but loss rates were high and they only received limited riches from the west coast of Africa. In 1481, King John II of Portugal ascended to the throne; he was a keen supporter of encouraging better trade routes. He put Vasco de Gama in charge of finding one.


Marco Polo (1254 – 1324)

Polo was a Venetian traveler and explorer who made ground-breaking journeys to Asia and China. His journeys and writings helped to open up the Far East to Europe and inspired Christopher Columbus and many other explorers.

Marco Polo was amongst the first Europeans to travel the famous Silk Road trade route, stretching from the Middle East to China. Significantly, Polo is reputed to have been born in Korčula himself, although evidence to support this thesis is at best sketchy. If Marco’s place of birth is somewhat ambiguous, it is certain that he was taken prisoner by the Genoese in the naval battle of Korčula, between the Venetian and Genovese states.

Having been captured and taken to a Genoese prison, he wrote his book ‘Million’ (see below) about his travels to China. Yet, it was Marco’s cellmate, Rusticello who would later produce a book ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’. This made Marco’s travelling exploits famous throughout the world. The work caused a sensation in western society when published, since many Europeans were for the first time vividly immersed into the exotic and hitherto unknown culture of the Far East.

Polo noted down the use of coal and ceramics in China, centuries before they became widespread in Europe. However, many of Polo’s stories seemed so far-fetched that people thought that he had made them up. Some of his claims have never been verified. Nevertheless, many merchants would follow Polo’s routes, and many more travelers and explorers, including one Christopher Colombus, were to be inspired by Polo’s achievement.

James Cook (1728 – 1779)

Cook was a British explorer who made groundbreaking voyages to the Pacific Ocean. He made the first European contact with Eastern coast of Australia and he chartered the islands of the Pacific from New Zealand to Hawaii.

Born in the tiny village of Great Ayton, Yorkshire in 1755, Captain James Cook went on to become one of the most famous sea explorers of his age. He helped to find new lands and redraw the maps of the time. After working for a year as a grocer, James Cook gained an apprentice for a Quaker-owned shipping company. It was here that James Cook began learning the arts of navigation and seamanship. During the late eighteenth century, there was great interest in surveying unknown lands.

After serving in the seven-year war with France, he was commissioned in 1768 by the Royal Society on a scientific expedition to the Pacific. This was the start of his travels around the oceans of the world. He helped to chart the coasts of New Zealand and Australia. Cook visited many unknown islands – witnessing human sacrifices in Tahiti amongst other things. He was an explorer of tremendous determination and faith. He helped spread the boundaries of known sea travel and raised standards for the welfare of his men serving under him.

Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1597)

Drake was an English explorer who made the second successful circumnavigation of the world in 1577-1580. He also fought the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Sir Francis Drake was an English sailor and explorer. Beginning around 1563, he and his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, became the first Englishmen to sell slaves from Africa in the New World. In Panama in 1573, he captured a fortune in silver and gold that the Spanish had seized from the Native Americans and became the first Englishman to see the Pacific.

He was also the first Englishman to sail all the way around the world. Because of this, he was made a knight by Queen Elizabeth I. His rise from commoner to great war hero and influential person was rare for his time.

Ferdinand Magellan (1480 – 1521)

A Portuguese sailor and adventurer who led the first expedition to make a successful circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan also made the first crossing from the Atlantic into the Pacific and also the first successful crossing of the Pacific Ocean. He died before the expedition reached Europe.

Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese sailor who, from 1519 to 1522, led the first circumnavigation of the world. He was a skillful sailor whos idea was to discover new routes to reach India. Appointed by the King of Spain, he was given permission to seek India by sailing around the southern point of America.

He successfully led the mission through many turbulent experiences. In doing so, he made notable firsts. Magellan was the first to find the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He was the first one to cross the Pacific. He led the first circumnavigation of Earth.

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First Circumnavigation of Earth

The Magellan-Elcano expedition was the first expedition that completed the travel around the world. It started in 1519 in Spanish town Seville by experienced Portuguese sailor Fernand Magellan, but was completed by Spanish sailor Juan Sebastian Elcano in 1522. Even though Ferdinand Magellan didn’t complete the expedition, his name remains written in history as the first person to sail the world. On the other hand, the name of Juan Sebastian Elcano is somewhat forgotten even though he played an important role in completing the circumnavigation.

However, this expedition made all the other circumnavigations possible. Magellan and Elcano were the first to find the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, they crossed the Pacific first and they found the route back to Sevilla first from the other side of the world. All of that was a huge deal in their time.

The first circumnavigation lasted for three years. The circumnavigation started on 10 August 1519 and was finished on 8 September 1522. The ship that first sailed around the world was called Victoria.

Circumnavigation in Modern Days

Circumnavigation nowadays doesn’t take nearly as long as the first circumnavigations did. People can nowadays sail around the world in a year or a year and a half. Even though, a lot of circumnavigations today take between 3 to 5 years. It is because people usually go sightseeing and take the time to relax and explore.

Sailing around the world costs anywhere around €1500 – €2500 a month. That amount covers all the costs for food and necessities. It also covers additional expenses that may or may not come while sailing. Depending on the personal preferences and a lot of other factors, sailing around the world can be more or less expensive. But this amount of money is which a lot of circumnavigators agree with.

Sailing around the world is a lot easier in modern days. All the modern tools, GPS and navigation make it a lot safer, too. Currently there are a lot of people who are on their expedition around the world. Some for sport, some for the adventure and the other to break world records.


Golden Globe Race is circumnavigation that people do for sports. It is a race around the world on a sailboat with only one crew member. First one was in 1968. The last taking place in 2018 and the next will be in 2022.

Sailors sail east. The starting and finishing point is Les Sables-d’Olonne in France. The competitors usually take five to six months to finish the race. The race in 2022 will start on 4 September. During the race, the competitors can’t use modern equipment.


Others sail the world for the pure adventure. One of those people who do it for the experience is Sailing Togetherness. They are going to sail around the world starting from their hometown in Denmark in 2020. Their plan is to use 100 % green energy and do all the boat work themselves. If you want to joint them, feel free to send them a message on Instagram.

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Sailing Togetherness

Sailingtogetherness is a project started by two Danish guys Jakob (22 years) and Mikkel (23 years) aimed to inspire young people to start sailing.
Mikkel has seven years of sailing experience and teaches young people in sailing. Jakob has never been on a sailboat but is willing to learn along the way.

The boat a Luffe 54 was built in 1988 as a luxury yacht on a danish boatyard. But it was bought as a insurance claim which means there is a lot of repairs needed.
The plan is that the boat, Togetherness, will be ready to start its first circumnavigation in 2021 where it will cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean.

Everybody who wants to join can do so. The boat can house between 6-8 people while sailing. Experience in sailing is not a requirement but will be taught along the way. The crew will share all of the expenses during their stay. Depending on the location we expect it to be around 6500-7500 DKK (870-1000 euro) a month.

The route is not planned. The decisions of where to sail will be taken by the crew on the boat by that time. On sailingtogetherness’ Instagram it is also possible to vote on different locations that should be visited!
The dream is to visit as many “local” (not touristed) places as possible. And the circumnavigation takes between 10 and 15 years. Another goal is also to sail along the South American coast and south of Cape Horn.

If people have interest in joining or hearing more they can write on Instagram or Facebook under the name Sailingtogetherness.


Fastest Circumnavigation Around the World

The world record holder for the fastest sail around the world is Francois Gabart. He has beaten the previous world record by 30 minutes in 2018. The record is now 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds. The distance Francois sailed is 27 860 nautical miles with average speed of 27.2 knots and the maximum speed of 39.2 knots.

Francois did it on his trimaran Macif. This record will probably remain for quite some time because sailing around the world that quickly is more than amazing.

Youngest Person to Circumnavigate the World

The youngest person to ever sail around the world is Laura Dekker. Laura Dekker was born in 1995 and she loved sailing since she was a child. She was making her own improvised sailboats as a kid and was in love with the sea. As a result, she bought her first sailboat when she was only 11.

By the time she was 13, she sailed alone from Holland to England. After more than a few sails to England and back, she said that is enough of waiting. She went ahead and decided to fulfil her dream of sailing around the world. A few court cases later she managed to set off. Her starting point was in the Caribbean. She started the journey when she was 14 and returned when she was 16, making her the youngest person to ever circumnavigate the world.

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