Ideas

Sailing Alone Around the World

In 1895 a retired Canadian sea captain set off to sail alone around the world. It had never been done, and it took Joshua Slocum three years, but the book of his adventures made him famous. Since then, fewer than 200 people have sailed in his wake and two of them are also Canadian. IDEAS contributor Philip Coulter explores...
In 2006 Dee Caffari became the first woman to sail solo around the world the wrong way, non-stop. In 2009 her 6th place finish in the Vendée Globe made her the first woman to sail solo and non-stop in both directions around the globe. Having completed the Barcelona World Race, Dee has circumnavigated the globe non stop more times than any other woman. (REUTERS/Charles Platiau )
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In 1895 a retired Canadian sea captain set off to sail alone around the world. It had never been done, and it took Joshua Slocum three years, but the book of his adventures made him famous. Since then, fewer than 200 people have sailed in his wake and two of them are also Canadian. IDEAS contributor Philip Coulter explores this greatest challenge sailors set for themselves — possibly the greatest of all human challenges. **This episode originally aired April 8, 2013.

It's been said that we know more about space than we do about the oceans here on earth. Staring into the cold grey North Sea off the Scottish coast, the poet Ann Stevenson writes "the sea is as near as we come to another world". 

Thousands have climbed Mount Everest.  Around 500 people have been in space. Sailed alone around the world? About 200. You could say — its the rarest of human achievements. But what's the challenge? And what does it take to do it?

The boats are like giant sleds, sixty-feet long, wide and shallow, with giant sails, designed to go fast. Speed is your friend, they say, because the faster you go, the less stress on the boat, on the sails, on you. A storm, with sixty-foot waves and fifty knot winds, is just fine — gets you there faster. 

These days, sailing around the world is mostly racing: sometimes in a race with four stages, but also in the scariest race of them all, the Vendee Globe, a non-stop sprint of three months or less. Sailing alone around the world is still one of the pinnacles of human achievement. 


Guests in this program:

  • Derek Lundy, author of Godforsaken Sea, about the single-handed non-stop Vendee Globe race of 1996-97.
  • Derek Hatfield, completed 2002/3 Around Alone race (five stages).

  • Dee Caffari, 2006/7 westerly solo (first woman); completed 2008/9 Vendee Globe.
     
  • Readings from Joshua Slocum's book Sailing Alone Around the World, by Albert Schultz.


Reading List:

  • Against the Flow by Dee Caffari, about her 2006/7 solo westerly circumnavigation, published by Adlard Coles, 2007.

  • Sea of Dreams by Adam Mayers, about the 2002/3 Around Alone race, published by McCLelland & Stewart, 2006.

  • Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy, about the 1996/7 Vendee Globe race,

  • Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, a narrative of his 1895-98 circumnavigation.

  • The Sailing Spirit by John Hughes, about his 1986 BOC Challenge race, published by Seal Books.

  • The Hard Way Round by Geoffrey Wolff, a biography of Slocum, published by Knopf.


**This episode was produced by Philip Coulter.


 

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