Winner of the 2017 Jules Verne Trophy (absolute speed record for sailing around the world). He circumnavigated the planet in 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds.
What Magellan and Elcano did was a wholly incredible feat. Because they were the first to sail around the world, because of the conditions under which they did it, because of the route … and according to the accounts we can read, it was a fantastic adventure, incredible in all aspects: human, technological, as a milestone in navigation …
It remains timely today, for ultimately, what Magellan and Elcano achieved was to unite Europe, America, Asia and Africa in a single voyage. We might
say that they set globalisation in motion
Without a doubt, the motivation for the expedition was economic, in search of spices. It was a military expedition financed by the Crown of Spain and a group of Burgos families.As for the personal motivation of Magellan and Elcano … they were incrediblefigures and they demonstrated, by navigating with those resources, that theywere fantastic sailors. And undoubtedly, great adventurers, with much interest in discovering and seeing new things, always with the idea of returning to be able to tell of them. It was a very good combination, they found the financing for an extraordinary feat.
It is clear that on that first voyage around the world, they sailed westwards with the intention of discovering a new route to the Spice Islands. They achieved this goal.
Today, ocean sailing is very different. Round-the-world regattas, like all sportsin 2018, are highly professionalised. And they are events with enormous numbers of fans, millions of people, as we can see at the Vendée Globe or Route du Rhum, where there are huge crowds at the start.
Today they are tracked via satellite, instantaneously, through smartphones. This makes it possible to experience the excitement in the moment, and explains why ocean sailing has undergone a boom in recent years.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
All of this requires a bit of context. When Magellan presented his plan, certain that there had to be a passage by way of America to reach Asia, he already had significant experience on previous expeditions to Asia on the eastern route, via Africa. As a result, he was very familiar with carracks, navigation instruments, crews, bearing in mind that all of this was in the world of five hundred years ago.
The technological development of sailing ships in the last fifty years alone has been incredible: now they literally fly across the water. It is clear that there is no comparison between those vessels and the ships of today. But they have two very important things in common. The first is that the same types of energy move them: the force of the wind, the waves and the currents. And the second is that we use the same regatta course, which is the planet. 70% of its surface is water!
LIFE ON BOARD
When you head out to sea, you must adapt, rather than fight. This was the case both five hundred years ago and today. At least that is my way, and I think that such people were also the same. It is clear that life on board has changed a great deal since then, in every regard. Equipment, materials, communications, navigation instruments that even allow us to see the future…
I think that a very important factor of life on board, which is not visible or which is not discussed as much, is the psychological aspect. In the sense that today, we have excellent equipment, ships that go very fast, we can communicate with land from the remotest spot in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean, everything has changed so much …
But most of all, the major difference between 16th-century sailors and us today, at a mental level, is that they didn’t know where they were going. They knew what was behind them but not what was ahead and obviously, when you are leading an expedition, I put myself in Magellan’s shoes for a moment, or Elcano’s when he took over, that is a very big responsibility, withthat fleet, with those lives … You have to know how to handle this and manage it.
That human aspect is very important, and it also counts on our ships today. When you’re going at forty or forty-five knots across the southern Indian Ocean, very close to the ice, because you’re trying to lower a time, yes, the goal is very different, but it also has a psychological aspect. But they faced a very considerable factor of uncertainty, not knowing what lay ahead …
It is very difficult to try to imagine what will happen in navigation over the next five hundred years, because just looking at the evolution of the past
fifty years, it has been incredible in every sense. The planet’s population has doubled, and speaking of navigation, it has been amazing how sailing ships have evolved. They are no longer used for trade, but for recreational activities and competitions
But thinking about the future and sustainability, it is very possible that merchant ships will again use wind power, as this is a clean energy, it was here five hundred years ago, it is here today and it will always be here. I don’t know where we will be, but I’m an optimist and out of pure sustainability, I am sure that we need to return to sailing. And I also hope that we are capable of fixing the disaster that we have caused in the oceans,with so much waste, and this starts with educating people.
I think that the 500th anniversary of the first circumnavigation is an excellenttime to be able to tell stories of the sea through this event. In our country, we have told stories of animals, with Félix Rodriguez de la Fuente; we have told stories of mountains, with ‘Al filo de Imposible’ (TVE); but we have nevertold stories of the sea, and we have incredible stories to pass on, stories that are our own (Magellan’s voyage around the world, Elcano, Urdaneta’s ‘return voyage’, the philanthropic vaccine expedition led by Balmís, the discovery of Antarctica by the San Telmo, and others), as well as about the sea today.Although our planet is called Earth, it should perhaps have been called Sea, for Elcano demonstrated how large the globe was, and that 70% of its surface is water, of which 96% is salt water..
Life emerged from the sea, and right now in the sea we have an extremely serious problem of warming and pollution, threatening the life of many species.
From the sea, which remains a great unknown, powered by clean energies and supported by technology, we have the opportunity to connect the past and the future and change the world once again, 500 years later.