To sail around the world is an ultimate endurance test and a dream that has for centuries tempted explorers, adventurers and those who love sailing. Ferdinand Magellan was the first maritime globe trotter, and he gets all the credit — even though he didn’t finish the journey.
During a skirmish with natives in the Philippines, he was shot by a poisoned arrow and left by his crew to die. His navigator Juan Sebastián Elcano then captained the Victoria, a 31-foot, 85-ton ship with a crew of 45 men back to Spain in September of 1522, three years after Magellan led his flotilla of five ships westward across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a new route to the Spice Islands.
In September of 2022, Ellen Magellan set off down the Trinity River in East Texas in the Evelyn Mae, a 22-foot, carbon fiber rowboat outfitted with two cabins and a solar power generator, on her way to the Gulf of Mexico in the first leg of an audacious, seven-year attempt to row a boat solo around the world. At the age of 27, Ellen seeks to raise awareness of the state of the ocean and promote the notion that it’s okay for women to travel alone and experience life-changing experiences.
Will Magellan complete her journey? Who knows. But, inspired by her passion, Marinalife presents the stories of eight trailblazing women who circumnavigated the globe via boat in their own ways, taking on a challenge historically reserved mainly for men.
JEANNE BARET of France became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, albeit without knowing it. Jeanne disguised herself as a man to illegally accompany her botanist lover as part of a French Navy scientific voyage looking for exotic plants. Women weren’t allowed on Navy boats. In Brazil, it is believed she discovered a new exotic flowering vine and named it Bougainvillea in honor of Louis de Bougainville, who headed the around-the-world expedition. Her identity was eventually discovered in Tahiti where some historians claim she was sexually assaulted by her crewmates. Baret and her lover Philibert Commerson were later left behind in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean as the expedition continued. On Mauritius, they befriended the governor, an avid botanist, and studied the flora of the region. When Commerson died, Baret married a Frenchman and together they returned unceremoniously to France three years after Baret’s journey began, thus completing the around the world journey. Bougainville later arranged for Jeanne to receive a Navy pension in recognition of her contributions on the exhibition.
NELLIE BLY was an American investigative journalist widely known for going undercover to report the terrible conditions of a New York City insane asylum. In 1888, she began what would be a 72-day trip around the world via steamship, horse and railroad to emulate Jules Verne’s popular fictional character Phileas Fogg in Around the World in Eighty Days. She was the first person to turn the fiction into fact. New York World Publisher Joseph Pulitzer initially was against it, believing only a man could make such a trip. He eventually acquiesced and published daily updates on her journey. The entire nation followed along as Nellie raced not only time, but also another woman. Elizabeth Bisland, representing Cosmopolitan Magazine, finished her circumnavigation four days after Nellie triumphantly arrived in New York. Bly was honored with a U.S. postage stamp in 2002.
KRYSTYNA CHOJNOWSKA-LISKIEWICZ, an experienced Polish sailor and ship construction engineer, became the first woman to sail around the world solo. Krystyna was selected for the challenge in a competition held by Poland’s Sailing Association to promote Polish sailing during the United Nation’s International Women’s Year. Her husband, also a shipbuilder, custom- designed the Mazurek, a 9.5-meters long by 3-meters wide boat for Krystyna. During her voyage, Krystyna was stopped and suspected of drug trafficking, overcame storms, and battled not only kidney stones, but New Zealand sailor Naomi James, who was also trying to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by herself. Krystyna beat Naomi by 39 days. Now retired, Krystyna continues to sail and encourages women to take up the sport.
TRACY EDWARDS was expelled from school in Britain at the age of 15 and began traveling the world. She worked on charter yachts in Greece and learned how to sail, eventually taking part in the prestigious Whitbread Round the World Race as a cook in 1985. Four years later, Edwards skippered the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Race. Edwards’ Maiden, a restored second-hand racing yacht, went on to win two of the six legs of the race and finished second overall. The media covering the race was often derogatory. One sailing journalist described the Maiden as a “tin full of tarts.” Nevertheless, Tracy and her crew garnered worldwide praise, and she was awarded Britain’s Yachtsman of the Year Trophy and the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). Today, she works with charities around the world to break down barriers preventing girls from getting an education.
DAME ELLEN MACARTHUR, a British sailor, broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005 on her first attempt. Her time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds beat the previous record by more than a day. Shortly after her return to England amid a flotilla of boats and cheering crowds, MacArthur became the youngest woman in modern history to be made Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE). In 2009, she announced her retirement from competitive sailing and subsequently launched a foundation promoting the concept of the “circular economy” — rethinking how to design, make, and use the things people need, from food to clothing, to transform our economy into one where waste is eliminated, resources are circulated, and nature is regenerated.
LAURA DEKKER, a New Zealand- born Dutch sailor became at age 16 the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe single handedly. Because her parents were divorced, Dutch courts stepped in to prevent her departure earlier at age 15 because national law prohibited a captain of a boat younger than 16 to sail a boat longer than 7 meters in Dutch waters. Dekker, who was born to parents living on a boat off the coast of New Zealand, first sailed solo at the age of six and soon thereafter began dreaming of sailing around the world. When she finally won the right to sail, she launched from St. Maarten in her 38’ boat Guppy. In 2018, she founded the Laura Dekker World Sailing Foundation to provide programs for young people to develop life skills such as teamwork, self-confidence, responsibility and leadership.
British sailor JEANNE SOCRATES became the oldest woman at age 77 to single-handedly sail around the world, non-stop and without outside assistance. It was her third attempt. When she departed Victoria, British Columbia, aboard her 38’ boat Nereida, she was still recovering from a broken neck and broken ribs from a fall in a previous attempt. Socrates accomplished the feat in 11 months, sailing around all five great capes (Cape Horn, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, South East Cape of Tasmania and the South Cape of Stewart Island) and dodging three cyclones. In honor of her feat, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority in Victoria named the inner harbor commercial dock the Jean Socrates Dock. Socrates is still sailing today.