It has been called one of the greatest voyages of all time, humanity's greatest achievement on the sea. It is Magellan's voyage around the tip of South America in his search for the Spice Islands of the Pacific.

This week, 64-year-old Paul Wachholz began the last leg of a three-year quest to follow the path blazed by Magellan.

"It was the ultimate adventure," Wachholz said a few days before the celebration of another heralded voyage. "Columbus was a minor leaguer in comparison."

Wachholz concedes he is not following every league that Magellan covered -- mainly because of budget constraints. Instead of spreading sails across the Seven Seas, Wachholz is visiting the major ports where Magellan's crew landed. Nor is he facing a three-year journey before seeing home shores; every year Wachholz comes home to Springfield to rest and see his family.

And instead of the proud ship that set sail from Spain in 1519, Wachholz's journey has taken him aboard jumbo jets, rickety seaplanes, buses, trains and tramp streamers.

"If I could afford to charter a yacht around the world for three years I would," said Wachholz, smiling impishly. "But I can't, so I have done the next best thing. I go to the key spots of his circumnavigation and interview the locals about the folk memory of Magellan."

Wachholz, a retired Army officer and teacher, finances his trips with his retirement benefits and through what he calls frugal living. And he believes every cent he spends is worth it.

"You can buy an around-the-world-ticket for $1,800," Wachholz said. "You couldn't even buy an old heap with that."

Originally, Wachholz set out to follow the path of Vasco da Gama -- the first Portuguese explorer to sail to India -- but turned to Magellan when war broke out in Angola, a port frequently used en route to India.

Since he began following Magellan's route last year, Wachholz has covered nearly half the voyage -- traveling to the Strait of Magellan at Tierra del Fuego on the tip of South America, Guam, the Philippines and the Spice Islands (Moluccas), south of the Philippines.

Wachholz, a Hemingway look-alike (sans beard), keeps track of his and Magellan's route on a glasscovered map in the den ["WORDS ILLEGIBLE"]. But an item as important as the map is the green, leather-bound book he holds.

This, he says ceremoniously, pointing to the title on the spine, was one of the major reasons he began his journey. It is Samuel Eliot Morrison's "The Admiral of the Ocean Sea," and recounts Morrison's journey in retracing Columbus' voyage to the Americas. Wachholz was sailing home from New Caledonia during World War II when someone dropped the book on his bed.

"I read it and realized that this was how history should be written," Wachholz beams. Eventually, Wachholz says he will take the 20 hours of taped interviews he has conducted during his travels, combine them with his original research and write a book about Magellan's voyage -- with a twist.Wachholz, unlike Magellan, hopes to complete the actual circumnavigation.

Magellan was killed by natives in the Philippines, without reaching his treasured goals, the Spice Islands. Of the five ships that set sail with Portuguese explorer, only one returned to Spain.

This week, Wachholz begins the final part of his journey, a journey he expects to complete next spring. He will fly to Australia -- never a Magellan stop -- on his way to catch a boat at perth. From Perth, Wachholz will sail around the Cape of Good Hope, up the western coast of Africa and on to Spain.

What next?

"I'd like to live in West Virginia for a while and then set out to see America. Traveling is an addiction. Once you have it, you're never satisfied. My friends say, 'Paul you're such a great traveler,' but hell, there's a whole half world out there I haven't seen."