“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”   __T.S. Eliott

The word “circumnavigator” has many meanings. Wikipedia says, “Circumnavigation is navigation completely around an entire island, continent, or astronomical body (e.g., a planet or moon)…The first known circumnavigation of Earth was the Magellan-Elcano expedition, which sailed from Seville, Spain in 1519 and returned in 1522, after crossing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.”

Past and Present: World Explorers


Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Magellan Elcano Circumnavigation

Note that Magellan had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, the two most dangerous capes in the world, whereas Gunter and I could transit the Panama and Pacific Canals. (See our route below):

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation map

The Circumnavigation of Globe by Pacific Bliss, 2000-2008. (from The Long Way Back)

The second person to complete a circumnavigation (1577-1580) was Francis Drake, who discovered the Drake Passage. The English circumnavigator sailed westward from England but entered the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan. He was the first captain to lead an expedition throughout the circumnavigation.

The third circumnavigator was Martin Ignacio de Loyola who completed a westward circumnavigation from 1580-84 westward from Spain and then completed another circumnavigation from 1585-1589 eastward from Spain; he was the first to circumnavigate each way and the first to use an overland route during his circumnavigation. With his two trips from Europe to South America, Loyola was probably the most widely traveled man in history up to the 17th century.

Noted First Circumnavigators in History

There were many more firsts to follow:

  • Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri sailed around the world in multiple voyages from 1693-1698 using nothing but public transportation. He inspired Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
  • William Dampier, an Englishman, was the first to circumnavigate three times (1708-1711).
  • The Dolphin was the first ship to survive two circumnavigations (with Samuel Wallis and Philip Carteret).
  • Jeanne Bare, disguised as a man during the first French circumnavigation, was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.
  • My hero, James Cook, made the first circumnavigation that lost not one man to scurvy. (HMS Resolution; 1772-1775).
  • Sir James Simpson made the first land circumnavigation by crossing Canada and Siberia (1841-1842).
  • The paddle sloop HMS Driver made the first steamship circumnavigation. (1845-1847).
  • Joshua Slocum made the first single-handed circumnavigation (1895-1898). He wrote a sailing memoir, published in 1900, called Sailing Alone Around the World about his single-handed global circumnavigation aboard his sloop, Spray. His successful book inspired decades of voyagers.
  • During Operation Sandblast in 1960, the USS Triton made the first underwater circumnavigation.
  • Yuri Gargarin, Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, circumnavigated the planet in 1961 for 108 minutes.
  • David Scott Cowper made the first circumnavigation by motorboat in 1985.
  • Dodge Morgan was the first American to sail solo around the world, nonstop. (American Promise. 1985-1986)
  • Hank de Velde, in 1997, sailed a catamaran around the world—eastward—in 119 days nonstop. To my knowledge, he is still the only person to perform this feat singlehanded on a catamaran.
  • Ellen MacArthur, to my knowledge, is still the fastest female circumnavigator. She sailed a trimaran B&Q/Castorama around the world in 71 days in 2005.
  • Laura Dekker, 16 in 2012, was the youngest person to complete a circumnavigation.


A Sense of Accomplishment

Anyone who completes a circumnavigation can’t help but feel pleased and proud of his or her accomplishment. I describe how we felt in the last chapter of my nautical/adventure coffee table book trilogy, The Long Way Back:

“We’re back where we started,” Gunter says. “It feels strange—like a miracle.”

“I know. We always sailed on…always westward toward the setting sun.”

We’re part of that uncommon and exceptional breed: circumnavigators. That word begins to sink in. What does that mean to us? We’ve fought the sea and won. Yet, in the end, we’ve taken that sea—with all it’s raw power and wisdom—into our souls.

A myriad of emotions assaults Gunter and me—feelings that we sort out and share with each other later. First, we feel the relief that we made it around the world safely. There’s a sense of completion, that we don’t have to push anymore. We’ve closed a momentous chapter in our lives, and we can never return to who we were before. But even though this adventure has ended, we know more adventures and Moments of Bliss lie ahead of us as we travel through life together. Beyond all that, there’s outright elation as well, and we bask in what we’ve accomplished. We set a goal, and we achieved it!

Pacific Bliss Circumnavigation

Lois and Gunter on the deck of Pacific Bliss at the completion of their world circumnavigation


“We are all in the same boat, and we only have one boat.” –Paul Anastas

Circumnavigators, of all people, appreciate how the earth is one. While sailing from San Diego to the Marquesas Islands, twenty-one days without the sight of land, I would marvel at the curved horizon all around us; we were right in the middle of the dark blue sea.

Breathtaking days were followed by overwhelming nights. I wrote these words in my journal and later in my book, Maiden Voyage:

Pacific Bliss glides gently forward, skimming the ocean waves. I know she’s moving because I hear the slosh-slosh of her hulls against the waves and the occasional creak-creak of the mainsail swaying as it tries to touch the stars. I feel like I’m encased in a giant dome, surrounded by stars crowded together so tightly they resemble a thousand Milky Ways. I am mesmerized. I find many sections of the sky so dense with stars that I cannot separate the individual star from the primordial soup. I am seeing constellations that I’ve never seen nor heard of before, lights that have taken millions of light years to come to me.

I feel unimportant, insignificant. That’s how it is at sea, a mystical experience almost impossible to duplicate on land.

“A wonderful, starry night,” I write in my logbook at the end of my watch, “the stuff of dreams.”

NASA astronomer John O’Keefe said that, to the astronomer, the earth is a very sheltered and protected place. A marvelous picture from Apollo 8 show the blue and cloud-wrapped earth, seen just at the horizon of the black-cratered, torn, and smashed lunar landscape. The contrast would not be lost on any creature. The thought, “God loves those people,” cannot be resisted. Yet the moon is a friendly place compared to Venus, where, from skies 40 km high, a rain of concentrated sulfuric acid falls toward a surface that is as hot as boiling lead. Then O’Keefe goes on to say that Venus is friendly compared to the crushing pressure of white dwarfs or the unspeakable horrors of the black holes of neutron stars. He writes:

We are by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances were created for man to live in…Someone made a lot of special arrangements and took a lot of time so that each of us could be alive and experiencing this just-right world.


As shown from page 28,  In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: Maiden Voyage

“The earth is what we all have in common,” said Naturalist and writer, Wendell Barry. During this Earth Week, and every day of the year, is up to each of us to cherish this gift and to treat it with the respect it deserves.