Magellan – Circumnavigation

We Sail to Prove the Earth is Round


A musical story telling of love divided by the greatest voyage of exploration the world has seen. 


Written and Composed by Bob Whitley
Performed by Bob Whitley and Lee MacKenzie

Magellan’s Circumnavigation was the greatest voyage of human exploration, at a time when sailors believed in gigantic sea monsters, demons, boiling seas at the Equator and magnetic rocks that drew the nails out of the timbers. The sailors also believed that the world was flat and feared they would disappear over the edge. The naos or carricks they sailed in were small ships only 28m long and 7.5m wide. Their timbers were sealed with tar which melted. The wood rotted and was eaten by worms and the sailors were constantly pumping to keep the vessels afloat. Often they were without food or water and many died of scurvy while facing ‘seas higher than the mast’. The chances of a sailor surviving the voyage were very small, but if they did the rewards were very great. This story is set against the background of the voyage and follows an ordinary sailor and his wife mirroring the parallel story of Ferdinand and Beatriz Magellan.

On 10 August 1519  an armada of 5 ships and 237 men travelled from Seville 75 miles down the Guadalquivir river and set sail with 260 men from Sanlucar de Barrameda on 20 September 1519 to find a passage through the South American continent. On 8 September 1522 one ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain demasted and wrecked with 18 circumnavigators on board. Their Captain General Ferdinand Magellan had died in battle on 27 April 1521. They had survived a trip of 3 years and 28 days, of 60000 miles. The circumference of the world was increased by 7000 miles. Their timekeeping by the hourglass and stars was accurate enough to puzzle them as to why they had gained a day by circumnavigating the earth from east to west.


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Lee MacKenzie

In producing this Magellan project I have been incredibly fortunate to have the amazing cellist Lee MacKenzie (formerly Cuff) join me in the venture with his multiple talents and enthusiasm. Not only is he a brilliant cellist, musician and vocalist but he has talents as a tailor and has made the breeches for our costumed performances.


Lee MacKenzie Biography 

Dorset based cellist and vocalist Lee began his musical career as a classically trained string player and chamber singer, later studying string tuition. Stepping beyond the confines of the classical genre, Lee was drawn into the rich and diverse world of folk music. As the lead vocalist of folk trio Kadia he shares fresh and uplifting interpretations of traditional songs and tunes alongside original music.

As a session musician, Lee has recently worked with folk artists such as Ange Hardy, and he is part of a long term collaboration with duo Ninebarrow.

Lee's background in Archaeology and Prehistory puts a historic piece like the Magellan project well within his comfort zone. He is currently working with Bob to weave cello and harmony into this exciting and expansive work. 

Photograph courtesy of Jo Elkington Photography

Photograps courtesy of Helen and Stephen Jones

Wimborne Minster Folk Festival 9 June 2018 Wimborne Minster

Quotes Magellan Circumnavigation Concerts

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Jeremy Miles Bournemouth Echo 3 October 2020

REVIEW: Magellan Circumnavigation at the Lighthouse in Poole


'This performance of Magellan Circumnavigation was pure joy, not least because it marked the return of theatre and musical story-telling to Lighthouse.

What’s more this two man show - the first theatre production to grace the Lighthouse stage in more than six months - was beautifully performed.

Conceived and written by Poole folk singer-songwriter Bob Whitley, it told in words and song the extraordinary tale of Ferdinand Magellan’s 16th century mission to find a passage through the South American continent and circumnavigate the world.

And what a tale it was. With Bob on guitar and mandolas accompanied by brilliant cellist-vocalist Lee Mackenzie, we heard how Magellan and his men took to the high-seas determined to prove that the world was round. Not easy at a time when many people believed the earth was flat and that if you sailed too far you’d drop straight off the edge of the sea.......

Sitting on a simply dressed stage, Bob and Lee performing in costume, delivered a thoughtful and perfectly nuanced performance of carefully crafted songs evoking the fear, excitement and desperately gruelling lives of the sailors and the hopes and heartaches of the loves they had left behind.'



Review from Mark Tattersall Artistic Director Dorchester Arts:

'Magellan Circumnavigation is a musical journey in time and space which was tremendously well-received by the audience here in Dorchester. Musically it's sublime. Bob's songs are beautifully crafted to both please the ear and also tell the fascinating and moving story of this incredible adventure, with all its excitement and wonder as well as its horrors and misdeeds. Lee's voice is a perfect foil to Bob's and their musicianship is outstanding: Lee's cello perfectly balances Bob's various guitars and mandolas to provide a soundscape that will please both folk fans and those who just love good music in general. Add to that a great story and it makes for an evening of high-quality music and storytelling with really broad appeal.'

The songs tell of this epic undertaking – exotic places visited, the life, trials and tribulations of the crew. The songs are sublime, the lyrics and melodies beautifully penned, bringing each episode to life when sung and played by Bob and Lee. Coming Home is surely one of the greatest love songs ever written and could be sung about any couple in any century, separated by war or adventure.' - Caroline Ellis  Milford on Sea Folk Club

'The Magellan Circumnavigation concert telling the story of Magellan’s voyage around the world, was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. The harmonies, both vocal and instrumental were wonderful.  Bob Whitley’s intricate instrument playing and Lee MacKenzie’s beautifully smooth cello blended effortlessly.  The story-telling drew me in and I was thoroughly absorbed from start to finish.The song book programme was an inspired addition.  The maps, pictures, story line and songs were a great reference and an informative keepsake for the future.' - Lissie Ashton  Chair Wimborne St Giles Village Hall

Audience members comments:


' It was a privilege to be at the concert, the music and story were beautiful, magnificent. The harmonies and musicianship were superb'

'An amazing evening, superb music and such beautiful voices. Thank you for a wonderful evening'

'A wonderful evening of evocative songs telling the most amazing story'  

'A truly mesmerising evening, wonderful music and atmosphere which totally complimented the tale of the fascinating Magellan voyage. So pleased to be able to be there, I’m sure there are great things to come for you sharing this far and wide!'

'A  beautiful collection of songs around a remarkable story. A unique experience and an amazing achievement.'

'Excellent evening, beautiful songs and music and great story telling. Loved it.'

'Beautiful show. I really enjoyed it. In particular I thought the songs were beautifully arranged.'

'What an amazing performance at Poole Lighthouse - your singing, playing and delivery of the narrative were just wonderful'

'Wonderful evening, fantastic music, a triumph and special night'