Punch in a google search for the world's greatest sailors, and you'll be treated to a grand list of captain's, explorers and racing yachtsman whose exploits span a history of more than 500 years. When it comes to the all-time greatest boatmen and women, we all know our James Cooks from our Jacques Cousteau, but what about the great circumnavigating seafarers who are still making history? In this entry of the Seachest blog, we count down these modern legends of the sea with our personal favourite picks for the top 6 greatest sailors living today.
#6 Robin Lee Graham
We can't imagine a single sailor who best captures the idealism and adventurous spirit of a youth living out at sea than Robin Lee Graham. As a teenager from Orange California, Robin set out to sail in the summer of 1965, and by the time he finished his journey nearly five years later, he had broken the record for the youngest person to sail solo around the world. In his 33,000 mile journey aboard his 24 foot sloop Dove, Robin met his future wife Patti, raised several kittens and even had his story turned into a best-selling book and Golden Globe winning film. Today, he remains an inspiration
to a new generation of young sailors, and a great symbol of the freedom that can be found in sailing.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#2 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.
#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.
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