FERDINAND MAGELLAN’s expedition to find a route to the Spice Islands was the first to circumnavigate the globe. Magellan himself was killed en route in present day Philippines, leaving eighteen crew members under the command of Juan Sebastián Elcano to complete the round-the-world voyage on September 6, 1522.
Since that day, the world has been circumnavigated numerous times by sail. Furthermore, following the Industrial Revolution, we’ve seen around-the-world journeys completed in aircraft, motorboats, even hot-air balloons. In May 2012, the Tûranor PlanetSolar became the first solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe.
Circumnavigation by Human Power
In 1992, environmental scientist Steve Smith discovered that no one had yet circled the Earth using only the power of the human body – with no assistance from motors or sails. He asked his window cleaner friend Jason Lewis to join him. After two years of planning and preparation they set out together from the Greenwich Meridian Line in East London.
Biking, hiking, and inline skating overland, and kayaking, swimming, rowing, and pedalling a unique ocean-going craft across the rivers, oceans and seas, the pair headed west through Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, North America and the Pacific. Steve decided to leave the expedition on the Big Island of Hawaii, leaving Jason to carry on alone. Upon making landfall in Australia, he and a team of teachers and teenagers mountain biked across the outback, hitting a second antipodal point to one that Jason and Steve had reached on the Atlantic. This ensured meeting the criteria for true circumnavigation as set by Guinness World Records and Explorers Web.
From Darwin, Jason kayaked and swam through Indonesia to Singapore, mountain biked through Southeast Asia to Tibet and over the Himalayas to India, then pedalled across the Arabian Sea to Djibouti. The final leg of the circumnavigation was biking, kayaking, pedalling, and rowing through East Africa to the Middle East and Europe to recross the Greenwich Meridian Line.
Jason’s 46,505-mile journey took 13 years, 2 months and 24 days. He is acknowledged by Guinness World Records and adjudicators AdventureStats by Explorers Web as the first person to circumnavigate the earth using human power.
Definition of Circumnavigation
“A true circumnavigation of the world must pass through two points antipodean to each other.” —Circumnavigate definition by Norris McWhirter, founding editor of Guinness World Records, 1971.
“[A] true circumnavigation of the Earth must: start and finish at the same point, traveling in one general direction, reach two antipodes*, cross the equator, cross all longitudes, cover a minimum of 40,000km.”—Circumnavigate definition by AdventureStats by Explorers Web.
* Antipodes are diametrically opposite points on a sphere, such as the Earth.