The Real Deal… Mike Horn Takes Young Explorers to the Far Corners of the Planet

PANGAEA Mike Horn antarctica

I was walking along the seawall at the US Naval Academy last night when I saw the slightly lit shape of a huge sailboat moving silently and easily amongst a flotilla of yachts anchored in Annapolis Harbor.  They didn’t appear to be boats left over from the Annapolis Sailboat Show the week before, their decks were cluttered with gear and didn’t have the shiny look of a new boat.  Annapolis is a popular Fall stopover point for sailors from the Northeast who aim to sail their boats south to the Caribbean for the winter, or to points beyond.

Back in 1998, my parents had been anchored off that very seawall before heading south for Norfolk and the start of the Caribbean 1500, a rather laid back ocean race from the Chesapeake Bay to the Virgin Islands.   The trip south in 1998 however, was by no means laid back.  The remnants of Hurricane Mitch blew across the fleet, and at least one boat was lost.  During the storm, my parents and crew hove-to for the night and made it to the Islands with no issues.  10 years, 50,000 miles, and countless adventures later, Calypso eventually returned to her home waters on east coast of the United States.

Although more than twice as long, and with a more modern design, this dark hull sliding through the water in Annapolis was similar in many ways to Calypso.   From a quarter-mile away it was clear she was built for one purpose, to explore the far corners of our planet via the high seas.

She reminded me of the Seamaster, a boat once sailed by New Zealand explorer and famed ocean yacht racer Sir Peter Blake.  In 2001, while sailing up the Amazon River on an environmental expedition, he was attacked and murdered by robbers.  Peter Blake had been a hero of mine since I was kid.  For someone who had never gone faster than 8 knots on a sailboat, watching him and his crew in the 1989 Whitbread Round-the-World Race blaze through  the Southern Ocean on the 90-foot Steinlager II was nothing short of incredible.

This morning, through my apartment window facing Back Creek, two huge masts came into view and quickly spun around.  This huge, aluminum hulled beast that I had seen last night was stopping by the fuel dock a block away from my door.  Megayachts and shiny raceboats were a pretty familiar sight, and the wow factor has worn off over the years, but this boat was definitely unique.  It had a mostly plumb bow, a bare aluminum hull, and deck hardware that looked like it came off a tugboat.  This boat was built to go places, and I knew I had to go down there to see what the story was behind this yacht with the words PANGAEA painted on her bow.

As I walked up to PANGAEA, I met a number of young adults who spoke heavily accented English and were busy refueling and filling the yacht’s water tanks.  Apparently there was an air bubble somewhere in their fuel system that was turning this rather simple routine into an all-day affair of filling up and emptying out jerry cans.

Unbeknownst to me, the skipper of PANGAEA was directing operations from her beam and he was the first person I met.

“Who is Mike Horn?” I asked him.

The name was in huge letters on the both masts and I figured there had to be a connection…

“That’s me,” he responded.

I had no idea who I had just met, but I soon found out that I was talking to one of the most accomplished explorers on our planet.

Over the course of his life, Mike has racked up more adventures than any 1000 people that I know.  He is the Dos Equis guy, if you had to pick a real-life version.

Mary Buckheit, a former writer for ESPN, who is now Mike Horn’s Communications and Media Relations Director, was there this morning to give me the scoop on this rugged looking, South African-accented, individual whom I had just met.  In an article she wrote for ESPN earlier this year, she described Mike:

Mike Horn arctic
Mike Horn horn after solo-traversing the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. He arrived at a village called Kugaaruk, (otherwise known as Pelly Bay), a small Inuit village situated on the west coast of Simpson Peninsula on the mainland of Canada. Mike progressed at an average of about 15kms a day, battling against temperatures ranging somewhere between -40°C and -60°C

He once walked out the front door of a camp on the equator, and 18 months later, after the circumvolution of the globe at latitude zero on foot, bicycle, canoe and sail, he entered through the back door.

He speaks fluent Afrikaans, English, Spanish, German, French, Russian and Dutch … in a mellifluous Cape Town accent.

When he was 28, he had a huge party to give away his house, his car and all of his belongings before up and moving to a foreign country — sight unseen — on a standby ticket.

His blood smells like cologne.

He walked across Siberia for one and a half years. Alone.

His hands feel like rich, brown suede.

A tow truck once hauled away his illegally parked U-Haul from a Dunkin Donuts. He saw it being yanked from the car park and tore after it on foot. He caught up, scaled the truck’s cab, threw open the door and — amid an extempore scuffle — accidentally broke the driver’s arm. An ambulance and cruisers arrived. Cops seized Horn immediately and threw him against the wall. After only a few minutes of questioning, the sheriff felt inclined to release Horn (and his vehicle) ungrudgingly and citation-free. The squad then provided a police escort through the city to Horn’s awaiting plane for an on-time departure.

Hearing this story, and looking at the boat before me, I knew that I had definitely made the right call by coming down to the fuel dock.  I was crossing paths with a very unique person.  An individual filled with stories only those who live on the bleeding edge of life can truly understand or appreciate.

He should be dead.  I mean, anyone who begins stories with, “when I was walking through the Congo on my way to Somalia” is either lying to you, or the story is just never told because they disappeared along the way, never to be seen again.   The days of exploration are over, this kind of shit just doesn’t happen anymore.

Fortunately for the teenagers on board PANGAEA, there are still real life adventures to be had, and Mike Horn is still alive to lead them.  In fact, PANGAEA had just arrived in Annapolis after completing a traverse of the Northwest Passage from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and is on her way to Florida to explore the Everglades before an expedition next year far up the Amazon River.

On board PANGAEA, Mike is leading the Young Explorers Program (YEP), an ongoing sailing expedition around the world that exposes teenagers to real-life, harsh environment adventures, while at the same time giving them a personal view and the ability to act on important environmental issues around our planet.   Since 2008, Mike has taken the Young Explorers on nine expeditions which included notable stops in Monaco, the Arctic and Nunavut Canada, New Zealand, Antarctica, Mongolia, South Africa and Borneo.

Sounds cool right?

Guess what else… it’s completely free for all participants.

This is no vacation however…

If chosen to participate in this program, youngsters can expect long days filled with watch standing, cooking, cleaning, navigating, and learning how to maintain this traveling classroom at sea.  The theme of the YEP is to promote exploration, learning, and to provide teens with the tools necessary for follow-on action.  While part of this program, projects are undertaken within the areas of Ecology and Conservation, Water and Sanitation, or Social Community involvement.

After tens of thousands of ocean miles, very little has been able to slow this boat down, or Mike Horn for that matter.  Fortunately for me however, a pesky air bubble was all it took to keep them in Annapolis for a few extra hours.

PANGAEA has three more expeditions ahead of her before the end of 2012 including stops in the Florida Everglades, the Gulf of Mexico, Patagonia, Brazil, and back to East Africa. Interested 15-20-year-olds may still apply via Mike’s website at www.mikehorn.com.