We all know our James Cooks from our Jacques Cousteau, but what about the great circumnavigating seafarers who are still making history?
#1 Paul Elvstrøm
A Danish sailing legend who’s achievements will be hard to match, Paul Elvstrøm is regarded not only for his successes, but also for his skill and integrity. Winning his first gold medal at the age of 20, Elvstrøm still stands as one of the few athletes to have won four consecutive golds within a single Olympic discipline, and he is still the only sailor in the world to win the world championship in five different classes. Renowned for more than just his ability on board a boat, his series of books on the rules of racing were gospel for many decades, whilst his Elvström self-bailer and Elvström Lifejacket were designed for and used by active sailors in the sport. Inducted into the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) hall of fame alongside names like Ellen MacArthur and Robin Knox-Johnston, many claim Paul Elvstrøm as the greatest sailor living today; a mainstream opinion we’re happy to flow with.
#2 Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Whilst this list is a mix of sailors both young and old, with some still in the early days of their career and others who’ve moved on from competition, Robin Knox-Johnston is a unique figure for the fact that his exploits continue to surmount. In 1969, this British yachtsman from Putney became the first man ever to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world, and in 1994 both he and his co-skipper Peter Blake won the Jules Verne Trophy for their joint fastest ever circumnavigation of the globe. However these aren’t the final highlights of Robin’s career; in 2006 he became the oldest yachtsman to complete a world solo voyage, and even at the age of 76 he still has no plans to give up racing just yet.
#3 Ellen MacArthur
A name familiar to all Britains as well as countless others abroad, Ellen MacArthur’s successful career as a solo long-distance yachtswoman saw her become the greatest sailor in the sport (man or woman) at the time when she broke the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. Beating the previous record by more than a day, MacArthur’s ability to fight against time in order to achieve her goal (which included getting no more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time) have made her a lasting, endearing figure. Having retired from sailing, Ellen founded two admirable charities; the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, yet we’re sure she’ll remain a legend of the sport long into the future.
#4 Ben Ainslie
Having won four consecutive gold medals, Ben Ainslie is quite simply the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, and one of Britain’s best Olympians. Considered by many to also be the greatest active sailor in the sport today, Ben’s ground-breaking techniques have been adopted by others in his fleet and many of his contemporaries. His victory aboard the Oracle Team USA in the 34th America’s Cup is considered one of the biggest comebacks in sporting history, with Ben now planning to race a British challenge for the 35th America’s Cup, and to bring the trophy home for the first time in over 160 years.
#5 Jessica Watson
Though it may be a little pre-emptive, we can’t help but feel this sailing daughter of Australia and New Zealand is going to be one of the future great names of the sport. Jessica Watson became the youngest single-handed, non-stop, unassisted circumnavigator of all time after she completed a 210 day journey at the remarkable age of 16. Though the exact specifications of her planned route, her age and experience were subject to criticism, Jessica received wide praise from the Australian government and sports authorities and by National Geographic, and later became the recipient of the Jane Tate trophy for her speed in the 2011 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.