Around the world in 1,000 days, under sail

If travel is fodder for dreamers, then the notion of sailing round the globe alone is almost off the romantic scale. Propelled only by the wind, such journeys surely appeal to a special breed: escapists or loners, perhaps, or at least those with time on their hands, in an irrepressible attachment to what Sir Francis Chichester called «the lonely sea and the sky,» and a fierce will to live their lives differently from others. It’s not hard to see why a professional sailor would enter into the heated spirit of a trans-oceanic race or set out for some nautical «first» or other. Technology and sponsorships have left Jules Vernes’s mythical 80-day circumnavigation far behind. From Joshua Slocum’s first-ever solo circumnavigation in 1895-98, Robin Knox-Johnston completed the first such solo voyage in 1968-69; Naomi James became the first woman circumnavigator in 1978, and Kay Cottee the first alone, a decade later. (Dame) Ellen MacArthur set the fastest solo circumnavigation of 71+ days early this year What, however, would motivate someone to follow in their wake without a claret jug, winner’s check or Guinness world-record entry to spur him on – not least a retiree who had never ventured under sail beyond the Mediterranean? To dig deep and tap hidden reserves of courage? As a fit of rebellion after slaving away on the job for decades? As the adventure of a lifetime? Or as an act of deference to the sea itself? In describing such an endeavor, words like «intrepid» and «challenging» seem as limp as a luffed sail in the doldrums. It can be difficult for landlubbers who barely know starboard from port, much less a jib from a spinnaker, to comprehend the siren call of the seven seas. Italian expatriate Piero Pieroni has some answers, having just returned – body, boat and even humor intact – from the ultimate watery grand tour. Holding faithful to Cavafy’s dictum in «Ithaka» – «Be sure your journey is a long one» – he set aside three full years for a leisurely circumnavigation (however incongruous that sounds), departing on the eve of his 65th birthday in 2002 and now back for his 68th. His time horizon may have been more Ferdinand Magellan than Dame Ellen, but at least he, unlike the great Portuguese explorer, survived the effort, only a little worse for wear. Pieroni’s story offers an instructive life lesson and a captivating tale of modern-day adventure. He seems quietly content with his wholly self-financed accomplishment, happy to talk about it in this on-board interview but unwilling to crow. «What you reap, you sow» would sum it up well. The saga is a welcome antidote to all that is compromised and overhyped in modern life. «He’s a hero,» a lady friend of his called to me while dropping off a homecoming bottle of wine. «Behold, a man» might have been Shakespeare’s epithet.

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