Top Ten Most Inspirational Sailors
|Watson's very pink boat.
7) Webb Chiles: "A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind." I love that quote by Webb Chiles and often think of it as I'm trimming my sails and trying to get the boat into that perfect rhythm. As a writer, Chiles has authored seven books and published hundreds of articles. As a sailor, he's completed five circumnavigations and holds several world records and long ago became the first American to sail alone around Cape Horn. In his words, he "wanted to live an epic life". He has plenty of skeletons in his closet (six marriages, etc.), but he's always good for a salty and thought provoking quote. For instance, try to digest this gem: "I believe that the artist’s defining responsibility is to go to the edge of human experience and send back reports." If you long for more, check out Webb's website (or is it webbsite?) at In The Present Sea.
|Kon Tiki in 1947
6) Thor Heyerdahl: The Kon-Tiki expedition is remarkable in so many ways. Imagine building a sailing raft by hand, using only the natural materials that would have been available to primitive people from thousands of years ago. Heyerdahl did just that when he built the Kon-Tiki. Even more remarkable is the journey Heyerdahl completed aboard his homemade sailing raft. He set out from South America in 1947 bound for the islands of French Polynesia. Heyerdahl theorized that the aboriginal settlers of the once uninhabited South Pacific islands originally came from South America. After 101 days at sea and over 4,300 miles of blue Pacific Ocean, he landed on a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands. Though most modern anthropologists now have different theories about how the South Pacific was first discovered and populated by humans, I have major respect for a man who took such massively courageous steps to prove the feasibility of his theory and beliefs. If you want to learn more about Heyerdahl and the expedition, I highly recommend the book Kon-Tiki written by Heyerdahl.
5) Joshua Slocum: Sailing single-handed around the world these days is still a major feat, but being the first to do so is truly deserving of this list. Some said his wooden boat Spray wasn’t up to the task, but he proved the naysayers wrong when he finally returned to Newport, Rhode Island in June of 1898 after completing the 46,000 mile circumnavigation. His book, Sailing Alone Around the World, is a travel and sailing classic. Slocum disappeared in 1909 when he set sail for the Caribbean.
4) Ferdinand Magellan: I'm both fascinated and frightened to imagine circling the globe aboard a sailing vessel 500 years ago. 500 years ago! While Magellan himself died on the voyage, his expedition and some of his crew are credited with the first circumnavigation of the planet Earth. Many of today’s geographical landmark’s either bare Magellan’s name or were named by Magellan. Of particular note are the Pacific Ocean (Mar Pacifico in Portuguese, meaning “Peaceful Sea”) and the Strait of Magellan.
3) Robin Lee Graham: The 1960’s were in many ways the dawn of the cruising sailboat era. Graham was a pioneering cruiser and the precursor to the recent slough of youngsters attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world (see Jessica Watson above). Graham began his epic solo voyage around the world on a 24 foot sailboat when he was just 16 years old. He completed it at the age of 21 in 1970. Graham's book about his experience (Dove) is one of my all-time favorites.
2) Bernard Moitessier: Cruising aboard a sailboat would quite simply not have the deep meaning that it does today for so many of us without Moitessier’s inspirational words and foundational world cruises. Moistessier was one of the first to discuss a non-stop, around the world solo race and eventually competed in the initial event when it finally came to be known as the Sunday Times Golden Globe (known today as the Vendee Globe) in the late 1960’s. He ended up quiting the race but continued on around the world almost one and two-thirds times before finally stopping to recharge in Tahiti. He was never about racing, speed or winning but rather finding himself and challenging his sea-hippy spirit. That statement could well describe myself. The following is a Moitessier quote from one of his books, The Long Way, that I recently received as a gift (Thanks Dad!): “My real log is written in the sea and sky; the sails talking with the rain and the stars amid the sounds of the sea, the silences full of secret things between my boat and me, like the times I spent as a child listening to the forest talk.”
1) James Cook: No list of great sailors would be complete without mention of Captain James Cook. His three epic voyages of discovery in the late 1700’s helped lay the groundwork for nautical charts still in use today. Cook is credited with being the first European to discover the Line Islands archipelago (including Hawaii), the first European to set foot on Australia’s eastern shoreline, the first person to very accurately map the entire coastline of New Zealand, and the first to chart most of North America’s northwestern coastline. Cook also put to rest Aristotle’s notion of Terra Australis, the great southern continent thought to include all of today’s Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand. Countless locations on today’s maps owe their modern names to Cook and his voyages (Botany Bay, Cooktown, Endeavour River, New Caledonia, etc.) Of particular note are the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook originally named the Sandwich Islands after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. [Free tidbit: Lord Sandwich himself is the reason we call two slices of bread separated by meat a “sandwhich”. Apparently, Lord Sandwich had a habit of requesting his meat be placed between slices of bread when playing cards and ever since the combination has been called a “sandwich”.]
|John Webber's 1776 oil painting
of Captain Cook
While much of Cook’s story comes acrossed as roses, there were plenty of thorns. Cook and his crews typically had good relations with the native South Pacific islanders and in particular the Hawaiians, but this ended after a dispute over small boats being stolen from Cook. The confrontations and quarrels that followed led to James Cook being killed on the beach at Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii. In addition to the notable achievements listed above, Cook’s voyages are also often credited with introducing venereal disease, alcohol and firearms to many cultures in the South Pacific that had previously been untouched by the woes of Western civilization.
The South Pacific looms large in most modern day cruisers’ dreams, including my own. While much has changed there since the 1700’s, the mystique of an isolated tropical paradise still remains. The islands of the South Pacific remain a long passage from any mainland and the blue horizons on such a passage are the same as Cook would have seen. I can’t help but picture myself feeling like Captain Cook if I’m ever fortunate enough to make the milk run to Polynesia. Researching and reading about Cook’s voyages has fascinated me for years. If you’re interested in learning more about Cook, I highly recommend Tony Horowitz’s book Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. Cook’s embodiment of the words explorer, captain, and sailor are what easily puts him at the top of my “most inspirational sailors” list.