6 sea explorers who changed the world

Christopher Columbus finds the New World

Christopher Columbus is largely credited with finding the "New World" of America, but he really landed in the south Bahamas. Wouldn't be too bad a miss, except for the fact that he was actually looking for a westward passage to the Orient.

You can't blame him for the blunder, this was long before our modern day luxuries of GPS, satellites or just good ol' paper charts.

While he might not have meant to find a New World, he certainly inspired others to follow in his footsteps and shaped the world as we know it today.

Despite two more voyages, Columbus died in 1506 having never found the elusive westward trade route he was after.

Ponce de Leon searches for the Fountain of Youth

Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was less interested in trade and more interested in eternal youth. He searched for the Fountain of Youth, a fabled spring that would restore youthful vigour to any person who drank from its source or bathed in its pool. As legend tells it, the hunt for the Fountain of Youth took Ponce de Leon throughout The Bahamas and along the coast of Florida.

According to historians at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands of Florida, the island chains' name comes from Ponce de Leon's voyage. When he and his men sailed through, they found the islands lacking in water – sadly, no fountain to be found here – but it was turtle-laden, which Ponce de Leon and his crew ate to survive. Hence the moniker Dry Tortugas, tortuga being the Spanish word for turtle.

The Healing Hole in Bimini, The Bahamas, is sometimes regarded as fountain that Ponce never found due to the spring's purported healing properties. This restorative spring can be visited on a superyacht charter to Bimini.

Captain James Cook makes landfall in the South Pacific

In 1769, the 18th century sailor Captain James Cook, commander of the HMS Endeavour, was supposedly being sent by the British government to track the movements of Venus passing in front of the sun.

This masked a secret motive: searching for the mythical southern continent.

Before you go thinking all explorers are blunderers, Cook was successful in his mission. He not only landed in Tahiti, where the sighting of Venus' transit was observed, but he sailed to New Zealand and the entirety of Australia's east coast – the first time the land down under had been seen by Europeans, but certainly not the last. Retrace Cook's footsteps on a Tahiti superyacht charter.

Ernest Shackleton endures the Antarctic

Proving sea explorers must be slightly masochistic, Ernest Shackleton journeyed to the frigid Antarctic not one but three times.

His most famous Antarctic expedition is one that nearly didn't make it home. Travelling on Endurance in 1914, the ship was trapped in ice, and Shackleton and his crew abandoned Endurance to live on the floating ice before setting off in three dinghies and landing on Elephant island.

From here, Shackleton took three men to find help – 16 days and 1,300 kilometres later, they found a whaling station and were rescued. It was August 1916, nearly two years after they had set off on the journey aboard Endurance. Amazingly, every member of the original expedition survived.

Not only did Ernest Shackleton pave the way for further exploration of the Antarctic, but he's inspired copycat voyages retracing his steps in modern times.

There have also been myriad superyachts braving the Antarctic. Voyager's Award winner Arctic P made the furthest journey south ever taken by a superyacht, stopping off at Shackleton's old stomping grounds.

sea explorers who changed the world

Jacques Cousteau's curiosity about life below the water's surface opened up new worlds in sea exploration.

Using early Aqua-Lung prototypes to film his documentaries, he pushed the limits of underwater discovery. More importantly, with his books, films and TV shows, he introduced the larger public to what existed below the surface and inspired generations to come, including his own grandchildren, such as Fabien Cousteau.

Cousteau's film, The Silent World, won a Palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956. Cousteau conducted research from his boat Calypso, a 1942-built former US minesweeper that he refitted. Sadly, the fate of Jacques Cousteau's research vessel Calypso is unknown as she has fallen into disrepair amid a legal battle.

James Cameron

As modern day sea explorers go, there are few as passionate and high-profile as James Cameron. The film director has made more than 70 deep sea dives. According to National Geographic, 33 of these were to the wreck of the Titanic.

Cameron's exploration of the sea is intrinsically tied to his work; his dives have inspired three of his biggest films, including Abyss, Titanic and Avatar.

By putting his visions of the deep sea on the big screen, he has brought the underwater world to the movie-going masses and forever changed the world.

But his explorations haven't ended. In 2012, James Cameron piloted the Deep Sea Challenger mission to the depths of Mariana Trench – the deepest spot on Earth – travelling 10.99 kiolmetres below the oceans surface.

"Cousteau said it best, he said 'if we knew what was there, we wouldn't have to go," says Cameron. "Exploration comes with risk, but it's a risk that's worth something."

Watch James Cameron risk everything in the Deep Sea Challenger promo video below.

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