Circumnavigation, the act of sailing around the earth, has been a hallmark of adventure in human societies, from Ferdinand Magellan sailing to discover new lands for Spain to Francesco Carletti voyaging to satisfy his curiosity of what the world had to offer. Now Rob Ehrlich of Sea Cliff has joined the ranks of those and other explorers who have completely sailed around the earth, although he is likely the first to do so flying the flag of the Sea Cliff Yacht Club.
Ehrlich is a life-long sailor, growing up sailing in Manhasset Bay with his family since he was five. His first few nautical adventures were short ones, mainly to nearby harbors in and around the Long Island Sound.
“For me, it was always a big deal just to go overnight to Cold Spring Harbor,” Ehrlich explained. “Those used to be big trips for me, and we would anchor out and just enjoy being away from land.”
Ehrlich began his voyage in November of 2021 aboard a vessel he had bought in France and sailed across the Atlantic the year before, a 51-foot long catamaran named Holiday. From there Ehrlich would spend 332 days at sea, although the trip itself went much longer as they would stay in different ports around the world for up to three weeks at a time.
Ehrlich also said that a main motivation for making this trip was to encourage others to push their limits and pursue their dreams.
“The point of this whole thing is to inspire people that you can do anything and that you should just do it now. Do not wait,” Ehrlich continued. “I hope that I can inspire someone to do something extraordinary in life.”
Ehrlich and his crew, which he gathered from sailing websites such as Find a Crew, sailed across the Atlantic through the Panama Canal, hopped around dozens of islands and countries around the Pacific, voyaged around the Cape of Good Hope and from there sailed through the Caribbean back up to Long Island only two weeks ago. Although there were never more than four other crewmembers at a given time, throughout the voyage Ehrlich said he had as many as 47 different crewmembers from different communities and walks of life.
One of the most memorable moments of the journey for him came when the ship was 150 miles south of Cape Town in South Africa as Ehrlich and his crew were sailing through a storm when the autopilot on their vessel shut down. As Ehrlich and the crew struggled to maintain control of the ship, he had an intense divine experience.
“I immediately jumped onto the wheel in my t-shirt and shorts, no shoes, and it was 40 degrees and with the wind and the waves whipping in my face I believe I saw God,” Ehrlich said. “I felt as though there was a presence, and in that moment I just felt, ‘I’m ready. If you want to take me now’s the time.’”
Dawn Reilly, the executive director of Oakcliff Sailing and a former circumnavigator herself, explained that attempting a circumnavigation is an incredibly serious endeavor. While her experience was in the Ocean Race, a sailing competition around the world, she said anyone trying to achieve such a feat is akin to climbing Mt. Everest or a similar physical and psychological challenge.
“It’s really an adventure,” Reilly concluded. “It gets to the point that when you go back to shore, things seem extra noisy and chaotic, and you want to go right back to sea.”