A circumnavigation is not a round the world trip

According to Wikipedia, the term „circumnavigation“ – literally, „navigation of a circumference“ – refers to traveling all the way around an island, a continent, or the entire planet Earth. In contrast to a trip around the world, which to the travelers (who are often referred to as globetrotters) rather has a touristy character as their primary interest is to visit as many countries and sights as possible than to circle the world based on a predefined set of rules. During a circumnavigation all lines of longitude are crossed by foot, bicycle, car, motorbike, ship, aircraft or spaceship. Depending on the set of rules additional requirements apply.

Rules and Definitions

A simple definition of a circumnavigation is a trip around the world, which:

  • starts and finishes in the same place,
  • travels in one general direction, and
  • reaches one pair of antipodes.

Based on this, it can be implied that a „true“ circumnavigation:

  • crosses the Equator at a minimun of 2 points,
  • reaches at least one pair of antipodes, and
  • travels at least the length of the Equator.

The Guinness World Records Society an independent arbitrator for all records, requires a human powered circumnavigation to:

  • begin and end in the same place,
  • cross the Equator,
  • cross all lines of longitude,
  • continued from the very point where the former leg was finished,
  • travel the length of the Tropic of Capricorn (length: 36,788 km) or more
  • and follow one main direction of travel, east or west, with any stretches traveled more than once to be deducted from the total.

The first circumnavigation in history

Circumavigations originate from seafaring. Contrary to commonly accepted wisdom it wasn’t Ferdinand Magellan himself to be the first human to do a full loop around the world – he died in April 1521 on the Philippine Island Mactan fighting the indigenous population – but Juan Sebastián Elcano who, with 18 survivors on board of the Victoria completed it on 6. September 1522 in the port of origin, the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

However, there are speculations that Magellan’s servant, Enrique of Malacca from the Island of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia could have been it. He had already been captured and enslaved by Magellan during the siege and conquest of Malacca in 1511, and in the course of this had traveled to Europe and become a member of Magellan’s circumnavigation.

Now that it had finally been proven that the earth wasn’t flat, more circumnavigations by different nations followed: partly scientific, mostly out of economic motivation and sometimes a combination of both. Initially these circumnavigations were accomplished under sail, simply because no other means of propulsion existed at that time, but with the rise of the industrial era, other sources such as steam, combustion engines and even nuclear reactors have been employed since their invention, on the surface – or below it.

From 1901 – 1904 the Canadian ship carpenter of german origin John Voss undertook a sailing journey around the world together with his companion Norman Luxton aboard the Tilikum, a dugout canoe with sails which he had bought from an Indian woman on Vancouver Island.

Single-handed sailing trips around the world

The first single-handed sailing trip around the world was accomplished by the Canadian Joshua Slocum from 1895 – 1898.

The first German who succeeded in sailing around the world single-handedly was Wilfried Erdmann. He did this from 1966 to 1968, succeeding in being the first German to ever circumnavigate the world. When he, 421 days after his departure in Gibraltar on 7. May 1968, made landfall in Helgoland nobody believed him at first, and his boat was secured due to import of untaxed goods. In stark contrast to this, British sailor Francis Chichester was rewarded for his solo-circumnavigation (1966 – 1967) in becoming ennobled and in 1967 honored with a stamp.

The same year when Erdmann started another Brit, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, embarked to sail around the world and succeeded in being the first to sail around the world, solo and non-stop. In 1971 scotsman Sir Chay Blyth followed, succeeding to be the first one to sail around the world westward, in 292 days.

The youngest person to sail around the world to date is dutch Laura Dekker, who at the start of her trip in 2010 was 14 years old. The actual start for the circumnavigation took place at 20. January 2011 on the island of St. Maarten, as she had a lawsuit files against the dutch authorities to let her do this. She finished on 21. January 2012.

Some other spectacular circumnavigations

The Austrian world traveler Ida Pfeiffer circled the globe two times: the first time from 1846 to 1848 and the second time from 1851 to 1855, traveling a total of 240,000 km at sea and 32,000 km on four continents.

George Francis Train, a US-American merchant, writer, author and eccentric traveler circled the globe in 1870 and by doing this provided basis for Jules Vernes famous book Around the World in Eighty Days.

Thomas Stevens, an Englishman who had emigrated to the US, circled the world traveling on his penny farthing from April 1884 to December 1886, becoming the first person to ever have done this.

In 1888, US-American journalist Nellie Bly on behalf of the newspaper New York World went on a trip around the world , tracing the original route from Jules Vernes book „Around the World in Eighty Days“. she started the 32,800 km plus journey on 14. November 1889 in New York und traveld via England, Jules Vernes residence Amiens, Brindisi in Italy, Colombo on Ceylon, Hong Kong, China, Japan and San Francisco. After 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds, she finished in record breaking time on 25. January 1890 . She had been the first woman who, unaccompanied by a man, had undertaken such a journey which made her a role model ofr many women.

German Heinrich Horstmann 1895 attempted to cycle around the world, but skipped India due to the Cholera epidemic at that time and returned to his home country after 27 months via Egypt, Italy and Austria. While on the road, he kept meticulous account of the local beer prices.

South African born now living in Switzerland Adventurer and extreme athlete Mike Horn circumnavigated the world in 1999 within the scope of his Latitude Zero Expedition on the Equator and without the aid of motors. The unique Challenge furthermore was, that he must stay within a limited distance of the Equator. Mike Horn hiked, sailed, swam, cycled and paddled more than 46,000 km while primarily following a fixed idea in his mind.

Human Powered Circumnavigations

On 12. July 1994 Jason Lewis and Stevie Smith embarked on their Mission Expedition 360 from Greenwich, London. 13 years and 74,842 km later it was finished on 6. October 2007 in the same place. Onshore, they traveled by bike, on foot or skated on inline skates, for the offshore stages a unique pedal-boat by the name of „Moksha“ (Sanskrit for „freedom“) had been constructed and built. The „Expedition 360“, until the present day is, by all rules, the only „true“ human powered circumnavigation to date.

Canadian adventurer Colin Angus though claims to have successfully completed the first human powered circumnavigation together with his team. But it is not officially recognized as a „true“ circumnavigation according to the official rules, as he neither crossed the Equator nor touched 2 antipodal points. According to him, those rules have not existed prior to his embarkation. They have been defined while he was already on his way, whereas the defining institutions never responded in detail to his requests to clarify this issue.

On July 21 2012, US-based Turkish Adventurer Erden Eruç completed his 5 years and 11 days long solo circumnavigation, making him the first person in the history of mankind to solo circumnavigate the world with human power only by all valid rules.

Other Human Powered Endeavours

Karl Bushby, a British adventurer and former paratrooper started to walk back home to England on 1. November 1998 in Punta Arenas South Chile. With an extremely tight budget, massive problems to fund his expedition and several bureaucratic hurdles which had to be overcome the expedition, now in its 14. year, after he had managed crossing the notorious Darién Gap swimming and hiking, as well as swimming and hiking with his partner at that time, Dimitri Kieffer, making them the first people to cross the Bering Strait from Alaska to Siberia. Should he be able to obtain permission to walk through the Channel Tunnel it would make him the first person who has walked from the southern-most point of the South American mainland to England.

On 21. April 2011 British Adventurer Sarah Outen embarked on her „London 2 London via the world“ Expedition. After she had crossed the Channel by kayak and cycled through Europe and Asia she is now setting sail from Choshi/Japan to row across the North Pacific to Canada. After cycling through North America she will row back home to the UK across the North Atlantic.

Olly Hicks, another Brit will attempt this year, 2012, to row around Antarctica, solo and unsupported. This will be his second attempt after his first attempt failed due to imperfections in the boat design, so he just managed to succeed in becoming the first person to row across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand.

And another crazy Brit: extreme athlete Dan Martin will attempted a global triathlon this year (2012), but ultimately had to delay it by another year as he couldn’t make the time window for the North Atlantic. He plans to swim across the North Atlantic and cycle across Europe, Asia, Siberia and North America, while crossing the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska and finish with running the New York marathon.