Notable Numbers: Magellan’s 492nd, Minoru’s 8th, and Dekker’s 16th

On this day in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail on the first ever circumnavigation of Earth. Magellan sailed in the service of King Charles I of Spain, and was charged with finding a westward route to the “Spice Islands,” which are today a part of Indonesia. His ship completed the voyage, but Magellan did not. He was killed in a conflict with natives in the Philippines. Nevertheless, Magellan is one of the most famous seafarers in history. To get an idea of his influence, consider that Magellan actually named the Pacific Ocean.

Fast forward 492 years: A couple of modern sailors have followed in Magellan’s footsteps. They’re not going into the complete unknown, as he was, but nature and the sea remain as full of surprises as ever.
laura dekker
Today, September 20th, Laura Dekker turns 16. Dekker departed her native Holland at the ripe old age of 14, has crossed two oceans and now finds herself in Australia and on track for a successful solo circumnavigation. Unlike other teen sailors, such as Zac & Abby Sunderland, Dekker is not attempting a nonstop solo circumnavigation. Instead, she’s taking her time, enjoying stops in the Azores, St. Martin, the Galapagos, and other locales along the way. She expects to finish her trip around May 2012.

And at the other end of the spectrum, a few days ago accomplished Japanese sailor Minoru Saito completed his EIGHTH solo circumnavigation, this time sailing the “wrong way,” east to west. The kicker? Saito is 77 years old. He described this as his most difficult circumnavigation, and was beset by a near-Biblical string of difficulties, from severe damage to his boat at Cape Horn, to a hernia operation in Chile, to being hit by a car in Hawaii, to delays related to the 2011 Japanese tsunami. All told it took him 4 times as long as anticipated. He says he missed “cherry blossoms” more than anything else while at sea, and is already thinking about his next trip. He mentions Alaska and Greenland as destinations, which makes you wonder if he’s not contemplating taking on the Northwest Passage! I wouldn’t put anything past him now.

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James Schipper

Zac Sunderland was never attempting a non-stop circumnavigation. He stopped all over the place when he did his.