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Most Famous Sailors of All Time

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Fictional

Popeye: He’s the cartoon character that somehow turned spinach into a meal that kids could be coerced into eating. Though we don’t see him around too much these days, he’s been in pretty much every aspect of art culture: comic strips, film, tv, and more. It’s hard to think of a more recognizable fictional sailor. He is who he is.

Captain Ahab: What name comes to mind when you think of a giant whale. If it isn’t Moby Dick, then you’ve probably watched Free Willy one too many times. The character of Captain Ahab is probably responsible for the stereotypical depictions of captains that you see in film/TV today. Still, Ahab’s desperation and obsession with killing the whale tells one of the great tales in seafaring (and whose fate serves as a great lesson for those in industries that go far beyond the maritime).

Jack Sparrow: Before the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Johnny Depp was mostly a cult-favourite, nowhere near the superstar is he today. There’s a reason that this character in particular changed all that for him. Jack Sparrow was a refreshing take on a pirate who uses wit and intelligence (over brute force) to face his obstacles. That he’s also weird and kind of crazy was just the icing on the cake.

Odysseus: There aren’t many books as epic as Homer’s The Odyssey (let alone The Illiad), but as far as journeys on the sea go, the one Odysseus was forced to take is the type of story that wizards wearing glasses (sorry Harry) will never be able to catch up to.

Non-fictional

Christopher Columbus: I was tempted to put this guy in the “fictional” section mostly because of how completely wrong most people are when discussing his accomplishments. Columbus didn’t discover America, and he didn’t set out to prove the world was round (people already believed so). What he did do was mark a period of European exploration that led to the development of the Western World as we know it.

Jessica Watson: Who says you have to be decades or hundreds of years old to be on this list? Jessica Watson may be the youngest person on this list but that doesn’t mean her accomplishments are any less than the sailors before her. When she was just 17, she made headlines around the world for being the youngest person to sail around the world without any help (ultimately earning her a Medal of the Order of Australia).

James Cook: The contributions James Cook made to seafaring are so enormous, it’s hard to imagine if they’ll ever again be matched in the future. He sailed thousands of miles around previously undiscovered parts of the globe (being the first recorded European to touch down in Australia) as well as mapping out islands and coastlines in such detail that had never been done before.

Charles Darwin: It’s not as well known that Charles Darwin was a seafarer just as much as he was the guy who came up with the theory of evolution. But his five year trip on the HMS Beagle is the stuff that legends are made of. Here, he collected wildlife and fossils along the voyage, with his findings making him into a famous popular author. If you ever underestimated Darwin’s wild side, take note of this bit of trivia: when he first discovered the Galapagos Tortoises, he tried to ride them. Yep.

Jacques Cousteau: What more can be said about the multi-talented Jacques Cousteau? Among many other things, he was a Naval officer, explorer, conservationist, and scientist. He also co-developed the Aqua-Lung and pioneered marine conservation. The man’s dedication to the ocean and the sheer amount of information he provided about it, makes him a seafaring legend.

Black Beard: If there’s one personality whose image has been warped by time and popular culture, it’s definitely Black Beard. He was one of the most (if not the most) notorious pirates to ever roam the open sea, yet contrary to how he’s depicted today, he reportedly never used violence when dealing with his victims. Apparently, he would use his frightening image (he sported a long black beard and he reportedly tied lit fuses under his hat) to elicit fear into the hearts of those he was robbing. It’s still pretty terrible, but an effective way nonetheless to get people to remember you for the rest of history.

Who else do you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments.