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Sailor 16 year old Jessica Watson has become the youngest Australian female to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. She set sail from Sydney on her 34 foot yacht Ella's Pink Lady on 18th October 2009. At least two other contenders are vying for the same title; 15 year old Abby Sunderland from the US (sister of 17 year old Zac Sunderland, youngest solo circumnavigator) and 14 year old Laura Dekker from the Netherlands (who is currently awaiting clearance from the Dutch court because of her age).  It has become some-what of a race.  All three will be older by the time they complete their circumnavigation of the Earth and the record will be claimed by the youngest at the time of completion. 

We wish them luck.  There is some doubt that 14 year old Laura Dekker has sufficient knowledge of navigation and astronomy to work her own celestial sights or complete the voyage without assistance as defined by the rules.

Bold and impressive as today's attempts may be, they do not detract from those of earlier adventurers, young and old, who circumnavigated the globe in flimsier craft without the benefits of comprehensive charts, satellite communication, storm tracking technology and state-of-the-art navigation devices.  Some of them did not survive.
 

 
     
Hazards:
Make no mistake; even present day solo voyages are no joyrides.  They are fraught with dangers that no amount of 'assistance' or technology can foresee.  The dangers include impact with sunfish, whales, turtles, flotsam, jetsam and uncharted reefs. They include pirates, hurricanes, break downs, bow swamps, loss of communication, capsize .... the list is endless.
 
 
     
The first circumnavigators:
The first true circumnavigators of the Earth whose route took them into both hemispheres were led by Juan Sebastian Elcano, navigator on Magellan's boat, who completed the voyage in 1522 with the 17 surviving crew members of Magellan's disastrous expedition across the Pacific. 

The first person to sail single-handed around the world was American-Canadian Joshua Slocum in 1898.  Since Slocum proved that such a feat was possible literally hundreds have  attempted a circumnavigation of the Earth for sport, pleasure or kudos.

Most modern day circumnavigators favour routes that take them into both hemispheres with a few passing south of the five noted capes of  the southern oceans; Good Hope, Leeuwin (Aust), South-East cape (Tasmania), South-West cape (NZ) and the notorious Horn, usually sailing eastward. A few courageous single-handed sailors have tackled the "wrong way" westward route battling against the prevailing winds, currents and waves.

Some of today's chosen routes are not true great-circle tracks.  A true circumnavigation of the Earth entails passing through a pair of antipodal (opposite) points on the surface of the globe.
 

 
 
 
 
Current and proposed attempts:
2009: 
There are three current contenders for the title of  youngest sailor to complete
a single-handed circumnavigation of the Earth.  All are female and all are under 18. 
All are following different routes and the record will be claimed by the youngest at the completion of their voyage.
 
 
2010:   Jessica Watson (Aust)
16-yo Jessica set sail from Sydney on October 2009.  She sailed a Sparkman & Stevens 34 foot yacht Ella's Pink Lady and covered about 23,000 nautical miles in 210 days sailing on an eastward route.  She overcame storms, capsizes and equipment failure to become the youngest Australian female to circumnavigate the Earth single-handed non-stop.

2010:   Abby Sunderland (US)
Abby is the 15 year old sister of Zac Sunderland, a previous  16-yo sailor who   circumnavigated single-handed in 2009.  Abby sailed out of Del Ray, California, on January 2010. She expected to cover 27,500 nautical miles single-handed and non-stop in 6 months, sailing an Open 40 foot boat Wild Eyes.   She was determined to beat her brother Zac's record, but unfortunately she was beset with equipment failures and inclement weather that forced her to abandon her attempt halfway across the Indian Ocean.  

2010:   Laura Dekker (Neth)
At the age of 14, Laura Dekker of the Netherlands will be the youngest sailor to attempt a circumnavigation of the Earth. She is currently awaiting an age clearance from the Dutch courts.  She will be sailing a relatively small 26 foot sailboat, named Guppy, single-handed and non-stop.
 















 


Jessica Watson's and Abby Sunderland's different routes for their circumnavigation of the world.
This map is only a visual indication of Jessica's and Abby's  courses and should not be used for navigational purposes.
 

  Circumnavigation
   in an 8 foot boat.

2010 -
 American Kristofer Harlson is reportedly preparing for another attempt to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop, this time by way of the five southern capes in an unbelievably tiny
8 foot boat named
Sea Biscuit which he designed and built himself.

He has successfully taken many long voyages on small craft before, but one wonders how he can
fit all the fresh water, food and requisites for such a long journey
on his current
miniscule 8 foot boat.

Comprehensive lists of solo circumnavigators can be found elsewhere.
Here are a few notable ones,

First single-handed circumnavigator:  
Joshua Slocum (US/Canada), 1898 - sailed 40,000 nautical miles on a 36 foot sloop which he rebuilt himself. 

First circumnavigator on a short boat: 
John Guzzwell (UK/Canada), 1955 - sailed his self-built 20 foot yawl Trekka 26,000 nautical miles in a westward solo circumnavigation of the Earth.  No one thought the 'tiny' vessel had any chance of completing the voyage. His attempt has since been followed  many times by others on shorter boats.

Youngest circumnavigator: 
Robin Lee Graham (US) 1965, was only 16 when he circumnavigated the globe in his 24 foot sloop.  Books, papers and movies were made of his five year 26,600 nautical mile voyage.  Graham became the inspiration for the many young circumnavigators who followed him.  He is still a legend in yachting circles to this day. 

Youngest circumnavigator (non-stop): 
Jessie Martin (Aust.) 1999 - youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop. He took 328 days to cover 27,000 nautical miles on his 34 foot sloop. Jesse was made famous by a book and a movie.

First woman circumnavigator (non-stop): 
Kay Cottee (Australia), 1988 - Cottee completed an eastward 20,000 nautical mile circumnavigation of the globe in 189 days, sailing a 33 foot yacht single-handed and non-stop.

Fastest circumnavigation: 
Francis Joyon (France), 2008 - circumnavigated the Earth in an incredible 72 days.  He sailed an IDEC-II multi-hull single-handed and non-stop over 28,000 nautical miles, reaching speeds of almost 16 knots (18.4 mph).

Recent youngest circumnavigator:
 Zac Sunderland (US), 2009. At 17 years of age Zac circumnavigated the Earth in 13 months over 28,000 nautical miles on his Islander 36 foot yacht Intrepid.  He sailed via the Panama canal and made several stops during his voyage.

Oldest leisurely circumnavigator (with stops):  
Harry Heckel (US), 2005. Heckel was 89 when he completed his 10 year single-handed circumnavigation on his 32 foot Tahiti sloop.

Oldest circumnavigator (continuous): 
Minoru Saito (Japan), 2010.  At 77 he is the oldest single-handed many times circumnavigator of the globe.  Saito is acknowledged as the world's most accomplished circumnavigator.  He is famous as the oldest  and one of the few to have tackled the difficult and most dangerous 'wrong way' westward route.

Most circumnavigations by the same person:  
Minoru Saito (Japan), 2010 - 77 year old Saito has completed 8 circumnavigations of the Earth.  He has been living on his boat for 12 years and has circumnavigated a total of 265,000 nautical miles.  Saito is still sailing.
 


 

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