Going to aquatic extremes

The Golden Globe Race, originally held in 1968, was the first ever race to attempt to sail around the world single-handed, non-stop. Britain’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was the only entrant to complete the route and circumnavigate the world in 312 days. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Knox-Johnston’s achievement, the second Golden Globe sailing event was launched in July 2018. When the winner, 73-year old veteran of six solo circumnavigations, Jean-Luc van Den Heede crossed the finishing line at the end of January 2019, he took the title from Knox-Johnston as the oldest contestant in history to complete such a race.

At the time of writing, Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen, in partnership with Wärtsilä, is expected to finish the Golden Globe Race as the fifth and final remaining contestant on 19 May 2019. Upon arrival in France, he will join the famed ranks of some 200 courageous seafarers that have so far sailed solo around the world. Among them is the Polish yachtswoman Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz, who, in April 1978, became the world’s first female sailor to have singlehandedly circumnavigated the globe. Setting sail from Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in February 1976, she returned to the starting point after travelling 57,719 kilometres (31,166 nautical miles).

While Chojnowska-Liskiewicz took 401 days to complete her voyage, Britain’s Ellen MacArthur broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005, by rounding the Great Capes in a time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds. The previous record holder, Frenchman Francis Joyon managed to regain the title in January 2008, by setting a record of just over 57 days. He held on to the record until 2016, when fellow countryman François Gabart, set the speed record for sailing around the globe at 42 days, 16 hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds, finishing on 17 December 2017.

Breaking waves

Turning to an even speedier mode of transportation, the world water speed record set by Australian motorboat racer Ken Warby in 1978 remains unbroken to this day. Designed and built by Warby himself, the jet-powered hydroplane Spirit of Australia reached a speed of 275.97 knots (511.09 km/h) on Blowering Dam Lake in New South Wales, Australia, on 8 October 1978. Warby is the only person to successfully exceed 300 mph (480 km/h) on water. His childhood hero, British speed record breaker Donald Campbell crashed his hydroplane, Bluebird K7, at a speed of over 320 mph and died during his attempt to break yet another water speed record in England’s Lake District in 1967. In total, Campbell broke eight absolute world speed records on both water and land in the 1950s and 1960s.

Opting for another type of muscle boat, Turkey’s Erden Eruç holds the record for the greatest total distance rowed solo on the ocean, 43,459 km or 23,473 nautical miles in total. Starting in the US in Bodega Bay, California on 10 July 2007, he returned to the spot over five years later to become the first person in history to complete an entirely solo, human-powered circumnavigation of the globe. During his journey, Eruç used a rowboat to cross the oceans, a sea kayak for shorelines and canoes for a few river crossings, cycling and hiking his way along the rest of the trail.

By the end of the circumnavigation, Eruç had set several ocean rowing world records, including the first person to row three oceans, the first rower to cross the Indian Ocean from Australia to mainland Africa (in two segments), the longest distance rowed across the Indian Ocean and the longest distance rowed across the Atlantic Ocean.

No limits

Our fascination with the aquatic environment has also inspired courageous athletes to test their endurance in extreme diving and swimming events. Freediving, for example, involves diving underwater for as deep or as far as possible on a single breath of air. Austrian freediver Herbert Nitsch has held altogether 33 official world records across all eight freediving sporting disciplines, and one world record in the traditional Greek discipline of Skandalopetra.

Nitsch was given the title “The deepest man on earth” after he set the world record of 214 metres (702 feet) in June 2007 in the most extreme “No Limits” discipline, which uses a sled to descend and a buoyancy device to ascend. He surpassed his own No Limits depth with a dive in June 2012 to 253.2 meters, the current world record.

As for the longest ever swimming journey, Slovenian marathon swimmer Martin Strel swam the entire length of the Amazon River, from Atalaya, Peru to Belém, Brazil. He swam the record-breaking distance of 5,268 kilometres – longer than the width of the Atlantic Ocean – in 67 days, between 1 February to 8 April 2007.

Having previously swum entire distances of rivers including the Danube, Mississippi, Paraná and Yangtze, Strel often dedicates his feats to raising public awareness about clean waters and the protection of the environment. As such, the amazing accomplishments of Strel and his fellow athletes serve as a reminder of the importance of taking care of our oceans and rivers, crucially important elements for the future of our planet.


© 2022 Wärtsilä