Brief History of Circumnavigations of the Globe


Going round-the-world is something that has appealed to people sinse it was discovered that the globe wasn't flat. Here are some of the significant Firsts in the history of RTW adventures:

1519 to 1522
Juan Sebastián Elcano is the first person to circumnavigate the globe. He was second in command of Ferdinand Magellan's expedition with 5 ships. Magellan was killed in 1521, in the Phillipines, in a battle. The voyage left its legacy with the Straights of Magellan between Tierra del Fuego and mainland South America. It also took its toll. Of 241 men who began the expedition, only 17 returned to Spain alive.

Thomas Stevens: The Grandfather of Round The World Cycle Touring. Tom, an Englishman, was so keen he left to cycle around the world before the modern bicycle existed. Instead he headed off on a Penny Farthing. As the story goes, he left San Fransisco with a spare pair of socks, a coat (that he also used as a sleeping bag/bivvy), and a Smith & Weston 38! He crossed the US and got a steamer to Liverpool and pedalled his way across Europe and Asia with a devious route using a few ships. In recent years a loony called Joff Somerfeild has repeated the feat and toured the world on a penny. He writes a good diary too check out his page.

Captain Joshua Slocum. First singlehanded sailing voyage around the world. Captain Slocum wrote a fantastic book about his adventure aboard the Spray called Sailing Alone Around the World. Its a great read and includes his maps for the carribean being eaten by a goat, flying fish jumping on board and hiring an Irishman to pretend to be a shark expert. The Spray, which he built himself, was fitted out with a wood burning stove and a small cabin, and he found his way by taking noon sun sights for lattitude and using dead reckoning for longitude as he only had a $1 tin clock without a minute hand. His journey involved crossing the Atlantic 3 times, and rounding Cape Horn.

Wiley Post. A one-eyed Texan aeroplane nut was the first man to get in a plane and fly around the world alone. Took him 7 days, 19 hours. Go him!

David Kunst. 450 years after Magellan's expedition, someone had the idea to circumnavigate the world on foot. Mad bugger! David set off with his brother John. They walked across the USA, then flew to Portugal and walked across Europe and as far as Afganistan. There, John was shot dead. David was shot in the chest and survived by pretending to be dead. He resumed the walk with another brother called Pete. They got as far as India but couldn't get a visa for USSR. They flew to Australia. After a while Pete went home but David continued walking. The mule that he used to carry his supplies died and he had to pull the cart himself. A kind school teacher called Jenni stopped her car and offered to help and hitched the cart on to her car. David walked alongside the car for the remainder of the Australian leg. Jenni and David later got married and lived happily ever after.

Well! No one has ever successfully completed a "true" circumnavigation by human power alone. Guiness World Records state that the journey must cover 36,788km, cross the equator and each leg must start where the last finished. It can be done with rowing boat(the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans have all been rowed across) and bicycle (there's many a RTW cyclist out there). But who will do it? Maybe you?

(NB: Jesper Olsen in 2004, Colin Angus in 2006, Jason Lewis in 2007 and Rosie Swale-Pope in 2008 completed circumnavigations using solely human power, though none conformed to Guinness guidelines.)

I wrote this post during my bike trip in South America in 2010.
I now offer guided walks and walking holidays in the UK in Northumberland, the Pennines, the Lake District, Scotland and further afield.

I'm always keen for outdoor adventures to help people learn the skills to explore! My particular focus is mountain skills such as navigating with a map and compass and wild camping for expeditions.

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