New trophy named for first (real) circumnavigator

The question of who was the first to sail around the world is usually answered: Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese captain and navigator who led a Spanish fleet west from Spain in 1519. The rub here, of course, is that while the Spanish effort Magellan commanded did complete the first circumnavigation of the earth, Magellan himself was not there for the awards ceremony. He was killed in the Philippines by local warriors led by Chief Lapulapu in the Battle of Mactan. It was the Spanish captain Juan Sebastian Elcano who completed the first circumnavigation in September 1522 after taking command of the expedition in April 1521 after Magellan’s death. Elcano arrived back in Spain aboard a single ship, Victoria, and with only 18 crewmen — the expedition had started with five ships and 270 crew. Now to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Elcano’s feat, a new competitive round-the-world sailing challenge award has been announced, the Elcano Oceanic Trophy, for sailors who complete a westbound circumnavigation. This isn’t the first time the Spanish have made an effort to set the record straight and give some public relations credit to the true record holder. The Spanish Navy’s sail training vessel built in 1927 is a four-masted barquentine named Juan Sebastian Elcano.

From the press release: The westabout course will start and finish in Andalucía, Spain. The 21st century re-run will establish a modern record time which will be open to challenge from racing sailors and adventurers from around the world. As required by the Elcano Oceanic Trophy rules the new challenge time must be established by a Spanish sailor. The ocean racer Alex Pella has accepted the challenge of replacing the record held by the Spanish Navy since 1522 with the support of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sports of Andalucía, co-financed with European Funds, and Festina, the official record timekeeper.

Alex Pella will sail the legendary 33.5m maxi-catamaran Club Med, now renamed Victoria after Elcano‘s ship, and with his crew will set the Elcano Oceanic Trophy benchmark time in early 2025 following a number of other record attempts, including a Round Spain/Vuelta España bid from Bilbao to Barcelona in September, and the Straits of Gibraltar record from Tanger to Algeciras later this year. In 2024 Pella’s team is planning a series of European and transatlantic records.

“The sailing circumnavigation to the west is the greatest oceanic adventure, and after just over 500 years we have the unique opportunity to enhance the value of this route by turning it into an international and CO2-neutral sporting challenge,”said Pella.

“The great thing is to be able to link this to the past, which is history, with a project for the present and the future. Leading the first attempt is an exciting responsibility”.

The Elcano Oceanic Trophy course will see Victoria head south through the Atlantic and around Cape Horn into the Pacific, then northwest over the top of Australia. Once across the Indian Ocean she will round the Cape of Good Hope and head home, via the Azores, to her starting point of Sanlucar de Barrameda at the entrance to the Guadalquivir River just north of Cadiz.


By Tim Queeney