In 1953 in Székesfehérvár Nándor Fa, the most famous Hungarian skipper was born. It was not until the age of 27 that Fa’s attention turned towards sailing: he used to do wrestling, but due to an injury he had to give up that sport. Around 1981 Fa found his true passion in sailing and joined the Hungarian national team and soon emerged as an excellent sailor.
Inspired by the autobiography of Sir Francis Chichester, the great adventurer who was the first to circumnavigate the globe,
with the help of his friend, József Gál, he set out to build a ship capable of sailing around the globe. The two young men worked on the boat for over three years—in other words, they put as many as 20,000 working hours into the 31-foot-long boat. The boat was named Szent (St) Jupát after the fictitious patron saint of Hungarian kayakers and canoeists.
The partners spent most of their time practising sailing on the Lake Balaton. The less experienced sailor of the two, József Gál first sailed on sea in 1984—not long before he and Fa ventured on their round-the-world voyage. As a matter of fact, neither of the two had considerable experience sailing on oceans before their adventure. Against all the odds, including lack of experience, in 1985 the two men began their epic journey in their self-built boat, departing from Opatija, Croatia (then Yugoslavia) on 26 September.
Fa and Gál spent a total of 295 days on the open seas—on a boat 15-square-metre boat. During the trip they capsized twice, and Fa even fell into the water once. He only survived thank to the safety rope that he was wearing. The mission, which meant sailing around the globe along the hardest route, passing by Cape Horn, took over 700 days and was completed on 12 September 1987.
The Hungarian Radio reported about the reckless venture on a weekly basis, and when the boat finally accomplished its around-the-globe voyage of over 70,000 kilometres,
thousands of Hungarians welcomed the two men in Opatija.
The crowd flew Hungarian flags and sang the national anthem upon their arrival, welcoming the two yachtsmen back as heroes. Among the celebrating crowd was József Gál’s wife and son, too—his wife discovered that she was pregnant three weeks after her husband had sailed out.
József Gál and Nándor Fa were the first Hungarians to successfully venture around the globe on a sailboat. Their boat, the Szent Jupát was exhibited in the Hungarian Technical and Transportation Museum next to the space cabin of the first Hungarian astronaut, Bertalan Farkas.
The successful venture inspired Fa to do even more. By the end of the 1980s he became the first Hungarian to sail around the world as a solo skipper. In 1988, he built another boat, the Alba Regia (the Latin name of Székesfehérvár, his birth town) so as to participate in the Vendée Globe challenge, a non-stop solo Round the World Yacht Race, that took him 165 days to complete.
In an effort to improve his round-the-world ranking time, Fa competed in the Vendée Globe’s next challenge, too. In 1992–1993,
it took him 128 days to finish the same round-the-world challenge, finishing 5th at the race,
as the only competitor who arrived from a country without access to sea. When he finally arrived at the port of Les Sables d’Olonne, around thirty thousand people welcomed him, including a hundred Hungarian reporters.
The third successful round-the-globe mission also earned Fa the Officer’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit that was awarded to him by then President of the Republic Árpád Göncz. Although his fifth place at the 1992–1993 Vendée Globe race was the best he ever achieved, in 2016–2017, when he arrived eighth, he managed to sail around the world in as little as 93 days, that is in 35 days less than over two decades earlier. The Spirit of Hungary that he was sailing during that competition sailed almost 28,000 miles at an average speed of 12.35 knots during the competition. The 63-year-old Fa started the race as the oldest competitor, and soon after arriving at his final destination in France he announced his retirement from racing.
Albeit Fa is not actively racing anymore, he is dedicated to passing down his knowledge to the next generation of Hungarians who are also enthusiasts of the open seas. In July 2023, the 70-year-old Fa sailed out on a 608 nautical miles long challenge with his mentee, Szabolcs Weöres, helping the young man prepare for the Vendée Globe 2024, and become the second Hungarian to participate in the prestigious race.
Fa was the first Hungarian to have sailed around the world all by himself. Overall, he sailed around the world and Cape Horn five times, of which three times alone. His dedication and tireless effort in designing and building boats and sailing them even on the most challenging sailing routes demonstrates a great personal strength that all Hungarians cherish. His example is also an encouragement for young generations: if a man, coming from landlocked country can become one of the best sailors of our time, there is no mission impossible for Hungarians!