There is a natural madness that fills the hearts of men and women when they gaze upon the vastness of the sea. I'm not speaking of all, or even most people, of course, but of a select few who believe, deep in their hearts, that the expanse of salty blue exists for one reason: "to be sailed over."
Ever since Magellan's voyage showed that it was possible to sail around the world in one go, mariners from nearly every continent have braved attempts of their own. Starting in 1894, a special breed cast off to claim the prize: solo navigators. Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail around the world on his own, embarked on a three-year long voyage. Slocum's writing reveals the inner workings of a man who takes pride in his abilities as a sailor, one who respects the sea, and is confident in his knowledge. Qualities of independence, determination and discipline are often attributed to those who make the journey alone. After all, it's not an easy one.
Slocum in the flesh, wikimedia.org
Of all the threats that face solo circumnavigators, one of the greatest may be the human mind. Journeys can easily last 500 or even 1,000, days, and the silence of solitude can be a breeding ground for all sorts of insanity. In 1969, Donald Crowhurst, after spending several months sailing around the Atlantic, slipped into depression and abandoned ship. And while many have been able to handle their thoughts during the voyage, they often come up with interesting tactics to stay above the breakers. Solo circumnavigators often find themselves talking to their boats, singing to spiders and sea animals, and otherwise populating their world with characters large and small.
One modern day circumnavigator, Donna Lange, named her boat Inspired Insanity. Luckily, she is well equipped for the task at hand: "Sailing is a philosophical journey that allows me to become immersed in nature and focus on my work and myself. I want an opportunity to share my experiences through songwriting and need this extended time to do so," she explained in an interview with Sail Magazine. Lange uses her journeys as a way to spread awareness of environmental issues as well as explore her own consciousness.
Today's sailboats can come with all sorts of advanced electronics "” teams from the UK are attempting to sail a boat across the Atlantic by remote control. This gives many solo circumnavigators the option to stay connected to the world as sail "” email, social media and other luxuries are often along for the ride. While this may contradict the romanticized vision of adventure that many of us have, it also makes the journey more achievable for many individuals. And there are some, like Lange, who avoid such connection for a more pure experience.
What might you find?Getty Images
While you might think that circumnavigation is reserved for those in the peak of their lives, several sailors buck that trend. Lange is a grandmother herself, currently on her eighth voyage. Meanwhile, the world's oldest solo circumnavigator recently reached port after a harrowing journey. Minoru Saito, a 77-year old Japanese man, battled tsunamis, icebergs and an emergency hernia operation over the course of 1,080 days. While he missed the cherry blossoms of his homeland, he reported feeling healthy in body and mind, ready for the next adventure.
On the other end, a number of teens have made the journey. The youngest, Laura Dekker, wanted to embark at age 14, but lengthy court battles with the Dutch government delayed her trip for two years. Still, she ended up setting the record for youngest solo circumnavigation when she came into the St. Maarten harbor at age 16. In her journal, Dekker wrote of talking to her boat, more comfortable alone in the middle of the sea than anywhere else.
Many solo circumnavigators keep and publish detailed diaries, while others have gone on to author books. Others create daily updates for people following them on land. While most of us will never make the journey, there are plenty of opportunities to learn from those who did.