Famous Ocean Explorers

Today the thought of yachts conjures up images of sunbathing, Caribbean holidays and luxury. But not so long ago, these vessels were the simple structures that intrepid explorers called home for many years at a time and transported people to places that they could never have dreamed existed. Yachts like the Santa Maria helped sailors find the North American continent while the Victoria was the first vessel to sail around the globe.

Hundreds of years ago people were not only driven by the desire to explore the earth, but also to claim the best access to the riches of spices in the East. Many journeys ensued, with some resulting in the most spectacular and accidental discoveries. Even though every corner of the earth has now been discovered, mans desire to explore the oceans has never ceased. To this day brave men and women face the swells to cement themselves in history by conquering the worlds oceans.

The Forerunners of Ocean Exploration

Bartholomew Dias and Vasco Da Gama
The Portuguese have often been credited as some of historys bravest explorers and the establishment of the Spice Route to India is to this countrys credit. What drove much exploration of the seas in the early years was a desire to gain the best access to the rich resource of spices in the East. In his quest to find such a route, Bartholomew Dias became the first European to navigate around the southern-most tip of Africa. It was Dias who first named the Cape the Cape of Storms and while the explorers did not make it all the way to the East on their 1488 journey, they have never been forgotten for their feat of being the first Europeans to sail around the tip of the African continent.

Vasco Da Gama was more successful in his quest to create the best Spice Route for the Portuguese and, in 1498, reached Calicut in India. The tales of his cruel treatment of the people living in the places along the route are chilling, but his victory was claiming the best Spice Route possible in the name of the Portuguese. This sea route was far less treacherous than heading overland through Asia and gave Portugal the ultimate advantage in trade in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Christopher Columbus
By 1493, Italian Christopher Columbus was convinced that a quicker route could be found to the East by travelling west. What resulted was a discovery that changed the face of world geography forever. When he could not convince his own countrymen of his theory, Columbus moved to Spain and managed to convince the authorities to fund his expedition. He set sail in August 1492 and was in sight of the Bahamas within only ten weeks, which he mistakenly believed to be Japan. Further west when the voyagers reached Cuba, they were convinced they had found China and moved inland to India. The dark-skinned people they encountered were soon labelled Indians and Columbus returned to Europe victorious in his achievement of finding the quickest route to the riches of the East. Columbus returned to his East three times during the remainder of his life exploring Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad. He died believing he had found the shortest route to the East, never knowing that he had in fact discovered something much, much more important.

Ferdinand Magellan
Ferdinand Magellan was not discouraged by the subsequent discovery of Columbus actual failure to find a westerly route to the East and set of in 1519 to prove that it could be done. Although from Portugal, Magellan undertook this journey with Spanish backing and set sail in 1519. The five ships in the party housed 260 men who had no idea where they were going as Magellan believed they would be too frightened too continue. A massive storm along the coast of South America forced the ships to seek cover and thus Magellan discovered an inlet completely by accident. The Magellan Strait, as it is now known, offers a route through the South American continent to the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

With one ship deserting the voyage, Magellan and his four other ships suffered extreme hardships on the Pacific and only 18 of the 260 men made it back to Spain three years later. The journey went through the Philippines where Magellan himself was killed in battle and on to the East where the ships were loaded with spices. The Victoria continued west and made it back to Spain, while all of the other ships were lost at sea. The westerly spice route discovered by Magellan and his crew was not used for many years, thanks to the treacherous outcome it had for the many men on board. Instead of discovering a new Spice Route, Magellan is actually credited with captaining the first circumnavigation of our globe, a more impressive feat by miles.

Modern Ocean Explorers
Ocean exploration has never stopped since the great explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries, but has simply evolved to become more in depth, competitive and adventurous. By the beginning of the 20th century, most of the earths waters had been explored and ocean travels became more about setting records than discovering new places. The year was 1895 when American Joshua Slocum set out to become the first man to sail solo around the world. He sustained himself during the three year trip by stocking up on supplies from islands along the way and his safe return home in 1898 cemented his place in the history books.

The next person to better this record was Sir Francis Chichester in 1967 who managed an around the world feat that only required one stop in a year long trip aboard Gypsy Moth. It was a fellow Briton, Robin Knox-Johnston who, twelve years later, managed to finally circumnavigate the world without stopping in a lightning fast 312 days. In 1988, Kat Cottee became the first woman to sail solo and non-stop around the world in an improved time of only 189 days. To date, the fastest solo trip every recorded to circumnavigate the globe occurred as recently as 2008. Francis Joyon, a 51 year old Frenchman, climbed aboard his 98ft fire-engine red trimaran Idec and reappeared around the world just 57 days later. This took a massive 14 days off the previous record which was held by the fastest female sailor in the history of yachting, Dame Ellen McArthur.

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