At some point in a sailor’s life, the romantic idea of sailing around the world consumes every thought and dream. Ever since the first explorers sailed around the world in the 1520s, mariners have set sail with high hopes and big dreams. The notion of such a daring adventure is nothing short of exciting. For many, they have years, even decades of sea time under their belt before they set out. But for some, they are just teenagers more enthralled with the idea of life at sea than on land. The Everest of sailing!
Fast forward to 1965 when Robin Lee Graham set off in “Dove” to sail around the world. With just $75, 500 pieces of second hand clothes for trade, and a kitten to keep him company, Robin set sail from Hawaii. His adventures included near misses, hurricanes, two dismastings, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and anchors dragging. Graham even met his wife on the adventure! At just 16 years old, Robin became the youngest man to sail around the world. His best-selling book “Dove” details the five year journey and shows that although grand, this trip is about courage, loneliness, determination, simplicity, and the sheer power of the sea.
Australian teenager Jesse Martin became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo, nonstop, and unassisted in 1999. His 34 foot boat “Lionheart-Mistral” carried him 27,000 nautical miles in just 11 months. Jesse was also the driving force behind the World Sailing Speed Record Council discontinuing recognition for the youngest circumnavigator to discourage such dangerous attempts for young men and women.
Many teenagers saw Martin as an inspiration and strived to do the same. Australian Jessica Watson completed her trip around the work faster than Martin and went on to skipper the youngest crew in the acclaimed Sydney to Hobart race. Zac Sutherland, a California native, became the first person under 18 years old to complete the circumnavigation solo. His younger sister Abby made an attempt one year later but had to be rescued midway through due to a dismasting in the Indian Ocean.
And most recently, Laura Dekker sparked a lot of controversy with the Dutch government before setting sail at 14. The courts objected to her plans saying she was too young to be a captain of a vessel and child services became involved. Finally the case was dropped and with the support of her father, Laura set sail on her 38 foot ketch “Guppy” from Gibraltar. 123 days later, at the age of 16, Laura and “Guppy” arrived safely in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten. You can see her adventures first-hand in her documentary “MaidenTrip”, which gives an intimate portrait of the young girl and the ambitious dream that became a reality.
Have you ever dreamed of sailing off into the sunset? Did Sail Caribbean give you a sweet taste of what living and sailing on boats feels like? Will you be the next teen to chase their dream of sailing around the world?
About the author: Maria P. Coughlin has been a part of Sail Caribbean for over 14 years, both as a student and staff member. She now lives in Rhode Island with her husband and is the Sailing Director for the Herreshoff Marine Museum.