Five of the Greatest Open Ocean Journeys in History

open water adventureThe ocean is the largest wilder­ness on the plan­et. We often think there are no blank spots left on the map and noth­ing left to explore, that it was all done years ago by peo­ple with names like Drake, Mag­el­lan, and De Gama. William Smith, the last per­son to dis­cov­er a con­ti­nent, sight­ed Antarc­ti­ca in 1820. But to say the age of explo­ration is over sim­ply isn’t true.

Here are five mod­ern ocean jour­neys to explore that will make your heart pound.

Peru to the Tuamo­tus, 1947
Thor Hey­dahl want­ed to chal­lenge the dom­i­nant belief that Poly­ne­sia was set­tled from West to East, with migra­tions orig­i­nat­ing in Asia. His theory—that set­tle­ment orig­i­nat­ed in South Amer­i­ca, fol­low­ing the Trade Winds—led him and five oth­ers to build a raft of native mate­ri­als based on the draw­ings of Inca rafts by Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors and native leg­ends. After 101 days and 4,300 har­row­ing nau­ti­cal miles, Kon-Tiki, as he called it, crashed into a reef on the island of Raroia, demon­strat­ing that the jour­ney was at least pos­si­ble. It didn’t change the dom­i­nant anthro­po­log­i­cal the­o­ry, which still holds large­ly to an Asian set­tle­ment, but it did make anthro­pol­o­gy hero­ic.

The Mah­dia, 1948
Using the new tech­nol­o­gy of the then new aqualung, a French naval offi­cer named Jacques Cousteau, along with Phillipe Tal­liez, Fred­er­ic Dumas, Jean Ali­nat and Mar­cel Ichac, took a sloop named the Elie Mon­nier from France to Tunisia. Tak­ing advan­tage of a break between mis­sions clear­ing World War 2 mines, they dove on the wreck of an ancient Roman ship, the Mah­dia. It was the first exam­ple of under­wa­ter arche­ol­o­gy using the autonomous div­ing tech­nol­o­gy of the aqualung, and it opened the doors to all kinds of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies, in addi­tion to pro­mot­ing the health of the sea. Cousteau and Ichac shared a film of their dive at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in 1951, and the rest as they say, is his­to­ry.

Walsh and Pic­card Bot­tom Out, 1960
At 1:06 pm on Jan­u­ary 23, 1960, Don Walsh and Jacques Picard reached the bot­tom of Chal­lenger Deep—the deep­est spot in the deep­est place on earth, the Mar­i­ana Trench. When their Bathy­scape Tri­este final­ly touched bot­tom 35,814 feet below the sur­face, they could have stood Mount Ever­est inside this trench and still had a ver­ti­cal mile between its peak and the sur­face. Using rebreath­ing life-sup­port sys­tems in devel­op­ment for the space pro­gram, in a cap­sule designed to with­stand the enor­mous pres­sure of the deep-sea, Walsh and Picard not­ed floun­der swim­ming at the bot­tom of Chal­lenger Deep and a seafloor cov­ered in “diatoma­ceous ooze:” the first proof that life exist­ed under the intense pres­sure and total dark­ness in the depths of the sea.

The Nord­kapp Expe­di­tion, 1975
The same year that Peter Gabriel left Gen­e­sis, Six Brits with climb­ing and white­wa­ter backgrounds—Colin Mort­lock, Sam Cook, Col­in Lit­ton, John Ander­son, Nigel Matthews and Peter Davis—planned a new kind of expe­di­tion: 500 miles up the coast of arc­tic Nor­way to the North Cape, or Nord­kapp, the north­ern­most point in main­land Europe. Coastal trips weren’t new—Viking long­boats had been ply­ing these waters for centuries—but they envi­sioned a trip using a new­fan­gled type of craft: 18-foot long, skin­ny, 21-inch wide sea kayaks. The kayaks had to be spe­cial­ly designed for them by Frank Good­man of Val­ley Canoe Prod­ucts; and 500 miles and sev­er­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions lat­er, the sport of mod­ern sea kayak­ing was born. The Nord­kapp expe­di­tion was the first proof that such a tiny craft was up for such a jour­ney. Sea kayaks have since round­ed Cape Horn, cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ed Aus­tralia, Ice­land, South Amer­i­ca, and Alas­ka, and pad­dled the calm waters of mil­lions of people’s back­yard lakes and rivers.

Lon­don to Lon­don via the World, 2012–2015
And then, there’s the repeat of Fer­di­nand Mag­el­lan and Fran­cis Drake’s round-the-globe journey…except instead of under sail, it recent­ly took place under human pow­er. Brit Sarah Out­en cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ed the world by row­boat, sea kayak and bicy­cle, float­ing under Tow­er Bridge and across the Chan­nel to Calais, by bike across Eura­sia, and then a 4,500-mile row from Japan toward Cana­da. The first row­boat cross­ing was inter­rupt­ed by Trop­i­cal storm Mawar, and Out­en set out again from Japan in 2013. After four months at sea bat­tling storms and con­trary cur­rents, she turned north and a month lat­er land­ed in the Aleu­tians. The next spring, she and expe­di­tion film­mak­er Jus­tine Cur­gen­ven sea kayaked 1500 miles down the Aleut­ian Chain to Homer, Alas­ka. After cycling across Cana­da, she spent four months row­ing across the North Atlantic until she encoun­tered the tail end of Hur­ri­cane Joaquin. She pad­dled back under Lon­don Brid­get on Novem­ber 3, 2015. Like Drake, who was knight­ed for his round-the-world jour­ney, Out­en is now Sarah Out­en MBE (Mem­ber of the Most Excel­lent Order of the British Empire).

The sea may be chart­ed, but the spir­it of explo­ration is still very much alive and well.