The heat is on in the Extreme Sailing Series, which lures some of the world’s top skippers to the shores of Nice, France to race in state-of-the-art 40-foot catamarans. In its sixth season, the adrenaline-fueled series is now “putting guests at the heart of the battle and dramatically increasing the pace on the water,” the organizers say. Extreme sailing began well before the launch of this competition, however. Throughout the years, male and female sailors alike have pushed their endurance to the limit, boldly rounding the globe under epic conditions more than once.
Here are five of the most extreme around-the-world sailors in history.
Sir Francis Chichester
Born 1901, Died 1972
An island nation, Britain is good at breeding stellar sailors with the skill and steel to circumnavigate the globe alone. Sir Francis Chichester took up ocean sailing in 1953 and won the first solo transatlantic race in 1960 in the Gipsy Moth III, traveling from Plymouth to New York City in 40 days. His prize: a half-crown — almost nothing. Still, on August 27, 1966, in a specially designed new boat, Gipsy Moth IV, Chichester set off from Plymouth in southwest England. After 226 days of sailing along a classic clipper route, he returned. He had successfully rounded the globe, making just one stop in Sydney, Australia. By so doing, he became the first person to circle the world solo from West to East via “the great capes” that lie in the Southern Ocean. His incredible voyage caused a storm of publicity and was ranked as the fastest around the world by any small vessel. In recognition of his achievements, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967.
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the world, between June 14, 1968 and April 22, 1969. Together with fellow maritime legend Sir Peter Blake, Knox-Johnston was also the second winner of the Jules Verne circumnavigation prize given for the fastest global loop by any kind of yacht with no crew size limits. Knighted for his triumphs in 1995, Knox-Johnston has been the UK’s Yachtsman of the Year three times. In 2006, at the age of 67, he became the oldest yachtsman to complete an around-the-world solo voyage in the Velux 5 Oceans Race, which consists of five grueling ocean sprints around the planet. Knox-Johnston’s advice to budding circumnavigators is simple: let nothing stand in your way. “Far too many people sit in the yacht clubs talking about it, and never do it. Do it! You’ll never regret it,” he told Yachtpals.com.
The Scottish yachtsman Sir Chay Blyth was the first person to sail solo and non-stop westwards around the world. Blyth achieved the feat in 1971 aboard a 59-foot boat aptly named British Steel. It took him 292 days. In recognition, Blyth was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) — a fitting title given his British army parachute regiment background. In 1966, Blyth and an army buddy, Captain John Ridgway, rowed across the North Atlantic in a 20-foot open “dory” fishing boat called English Rose III, finishing the trip in 92 days. Another accolade, the British Empire Medal (BEM), followed. The relentless Blyth also scored successes in the Whitbread Around the World Race and the Two-handed Transatlantic Race and, in 1986, took the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing.
Sir Peter Blake
Born 1948, Died 2001
Until his dramatic death at the hands of Amazon pirates, New Zealand yachtsman and ecologist Sir Peter Blake embarked on marathon maritime adventures almost routinely. According to Newzealand.com, Sir Peter was the only sailor to compete in the first five Whitbread Round the World races. When he won the 1989–90 edition, he skippered his beloved boat Steinlager 2 to an unprecedented clean sweep of each of the race’s six legs. In the 1994 ENZA New Zealand, he won the Jules Verne Trophy, setting a nonstop circumnavigation world record of 74 days, 22 hours, 17 minutes and 22 seconds. Blake and his crew “crossed the finish line at more than 20 knots, all sail down, trailing a drogue of anchor chains and long warps to slow them,” recounts fellow ecologist Etienne Bourgois. Above all, Bourgois adds, Blake was a formidable leader. “He knew how to bring out the best in each crew member and maximize everything with a limited budget.”
Dame Ellen MacArthur
Meet yet another British global yachter, who wound up with the aristocratic title Dame Ellen MacArthur. On February 7, 2005, MacArthur broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. MacArthur finished her epic trip in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, breaking the record in her trademark trimaran B&Q, which Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper described as a 2 million pound “marine marvel” and “the marine equivalent of a Formula One car.” In early 2008, Francis Joyon (the Frenchman who had held the record before) beat her record by almost two weeks. Still, MacArthur’s reputation stuck. In 2001, she had finished second in the solo non-stop circumnavigation race, the Vendée Globe. At the age of 24, MacArthur was ranked the youngest sailor and fastest woman to complete the Vendée.
Cover Photo Credit: ltdan – flickr.com