In the UK a few years ago, I - along with a large section of the population - watched enthralled as British astronaut Tim Peake blasted off from the planet ahead of a lengthy stay onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Over the next few weeks and months I was fascinated by the technology and human spirit that had managed to place him in such a remote and hostile environment and yet keep him healthy, happy and occupied. The ISS orbits our planet from 208 nautical miles above the earth and passes overhead multiple times a day. So consider this; yesterday we passed the halfway point to Tristan da Cunha - in itself the most remotely inhabited place on the planet - and at this point we were about 745 nautical miles away from the nearest land and three and a half times further away from terra firma and civilisation than even the astronauts on the ISS. That's pretty much equivalent to standing at Land's End in Britain and having nobody between yourself and John
o'Groats at the very far end of the Country. In fact, having seen no other ships since leaving South Georgia 6 days ago, it would be pretty safe to say that at various points during the day, our nearest other human neighbours are in fact the crew of the ISS.
We are remote! Like the occupants of the ISS, we are a completely self-contained crew living on a vessel that protects us from an environment that is otherwise utterly incompatible to human existence. Also, like the ISS crew, we have been put here by technology, albeit centuries old technology, and in turn the astronauts are kept happy, healthy and occupied by using exactly the same concepts learned by sailors over centuries of exploration. We both have superlative and compulsive views; ours today consisting of a fabulous sunrise and sunset, wheeling albatrosses, blowing whales and far-reaching, continually shifting, blue-sky horizons. There are of course many differences between our vessels; for instance for the ISS to achieve its orbital cruising speed of 15,000 knots has required millions of tonnes of rocket propellant, but for us to reach our top speed of 11 knots (and a yelp of achievement so loud that it brought the Captain running from the wheelhouse in fear
of a man overboard situation) only required a lot of sails to be hoisted and a 35kt squall of wind. We have burned no fuel for propulsive purposes since leaving South Georgia. In one other instance I believe both our crew and the crew of the ISS have a special privilege – we are both able to view our planet from a very remote and special standpoint and yet feel all the more connected to it for that very reason.