Please select your home edition
Edition
Selden 2020 - LEADERBOARD

An interview with Mike Horn on his recent expedition to Greenland and Svalbard

by David Schmidt 19 Jan 08:00 PST January 19, 2021
Mike Horn in Antarctica © Dmitry Sharomov

Adventure may come in all shapes, sizes and difficulty levels, but, without question, two of the toughest pursuits are high-altitude mountaineering without the use of supplemental oxygen and self-supported high-latitude sailing. While these two pursuits have little in common in terms of technical skills, they share plenty of common ground when it comes to the mental and physical challenges posed by cold, darkness, and remote locales. Just ask adventurer Mike Horn, a man who is well-acquainted with both pursuits, and who has achieved success in the Himalaya, on the high seas, and on both poles.

Some backstory. Horn (54) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and studied human movement science at South Africa's University of Stellenbosch. By age 24 he realized that a desk job wasn't enough to satisfy his desire to explore and experience life at its fullest, so he began a series of expeditions, starting first with a six-moth solo traverse of South America (1997).

Many expeditions followed, including (but certainly not limited to) a circumnavigation of the equator via bike, foot, canoe and sailboat (1999-2000), a solo circumnavigation of the artic circle sans motorized transportation (2002-2004), a human-powered trip to the North Pole (2006), crossings of the Artic (2019) and Antarctica (2016-2017), and a two-year circumnavigation of the planet via the two poles aboard his 115-foot purpose-built exploration sailboat Pangaea (2016-2019).

While this tick list would satisfy most adventurers, Horn also turned his attention to high-altitude Himalayan mountaineering, starting with successful climbs, sans oxygen, up Pakistan's Gasherbrum 1 (8,035 meters) and Gasherbrum 2 (8,068 meters) in 2007. Next was Broad Peak (8.051 meters), also in Pakistan's Karakorum region and also climbed without oxygen (2010), followed by an expedition to the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal (2014) where he and his team climbed Makalu (8,463 meters) without porters or bottled oxygen.

Only Pakistan's K2 (8,611 meters), which is widely regarded as the world's hardest and deadliest mountain, has proved elusive (so far), as Horn and his partners were turned back by bad weather.

In 2020, as most of the world entered a coronavirus-induced lockdown (or various stages of quarantine), Horn set off aboard Pangaea in February for Greenland and Svalbard, where he and his team helped conduct some scientific research while also logging thousands of offshore miles.

I checked in with Horn, via email, to learn more.

How did you become interested in high-latitude sailing?

My interest for high-latitude sailing developed as a result of two separate passions, which eventually combined into one: First is my passion for polar regions and second, my passion for autonomous traveling.

I have always been attracted to the polar regions.

As a kid, I followed with much enthusiasm the adventures of Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott; some of the greatest polar explorers of all times.

I knew I would someday find a way to make it to those remote areas of the globe, but there was something about taking a plane to the high and low latitudes that bothered me...to me it almost defeated the fundamental purpose of an adventure. My wish was to travel the way those who inspired me did...by boat!

Can you tell us a bit about Pangaea?

Pangaea is a very special and unique vessel. She was custom-built with the support of my sponsor Mercedes-Benz, to carry out research projects, travel across the globe and be a home to many, notably the younger generation.

She was built in the favelas of Santos in Brazil, not too far from Sao Paulo. It was important for me to involve workers who were in need for income.

The whole [build] process lasted two years.

Can you tell us about your recent expedition to Greenland and Svalbard?

Following the cancellation of all of my events and travels due to Covid-19, I felt an urge for adventure, hope, and progress. While the world was encouraged to stay home due to travel restrictions, I thought I would make the most of the freedom that comes with sailing to go on a little adventure.

As I knew most people were forced to stay home, it was important for me to share this trip through photos and videos, and to contribute to research projects that have been interrupted due to Covid-19.

The biggest challenge was to adapt to this new way of traveling. We sailed from France to Ireland, but couldn't set foot on land in Ireland, same in Iceland and same in Greenland. It was only once we had completed the required quarantine period that we could set foot on land in Svalbard, one month later.

The world is changing drastically and we need to pay attention, act, and adapt!

Can you tell us about the animal and whale observations that you made up north?

Whenever I organize a trip, it is important for that trip to have a larger purpose. I have always loved witnessing the marine activity that takes place when I sail on Pangaea. So I asked a friend of mine who is involved in various marine life research associations to join us and help us collect data to contribute to research that was interrupted due to Covid-19.

His trip request from Australia was unfortunately denied, so we carried on the data collection without him by capturing photos, videos and observations.

What's the best (or most enjoyable) part about high-latitude expedition sailing? And what's the worst part?

Funnily enough the best part of high-latitude sailing is closely intertwined with the worst part.

What's most exciting is when we find ourselves navigating through ice, attempting to make steady progress.

And the worst part, is when you get stuck and the ice surrounding you just won't let you make any further progress...this is when we have to act quickly before the ice closes-in on us.

It is stressful and the consequences can be bad, yet the urge to find a solution brings you adrenaline, uncertainty and excitement, which are things we adventurer's absolutely love!

What's the most dangerous aspect to high-latitude adventure sailing?

Mentioned above. Getting closed-in by ice and freezing in place, making it impossible to move forward or backward.

Last year, in September 2019, we sailed from Alaska as far north as possible towards the north pole in order to start my #NorthPoleCrossing expedition. It was the end of summer, so the ice was quite fragile, but getting frozen-in would have been a major problem because the winter season was already on its way.

What's harder—climbing 8,000-meter Himalayan peaks without oxygen or engaging in serious high-latitude sailing expeditions? Also, what makes one pursuit harder than the other? Also, which do you enjoy more?

Good question! [They are] completely different yet equally demanding challenges.

In climbing expeditions, I have no one to rely on but myself, whereas in high-latitude sailing situations, I have to rely on a team and respect the limits of my boat.

Both pursuits require different physical and emotional needs. I would say, sailing brings me more pleasure because it allows me to travel around the entire world and discover unknown places; but climbing pushes my physical and mental limits a lot more.

What are your plans for future expeditions aboard Pangaea?

I always have A LOT of plans and future expedition ideas for Pangaea. The challenging part however is favoring one option over another.

After spending a decent amount of time in the high-latitudes this past year, my next goal is to head down south towards Patagonia, to explore the Patagonian icefields.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Thank you to Mercedes-Benz for helping me make my dreams become a reality!

Related Articles

AC36: AI, RL, TLA, ETNZ, LRPP
There's a wee event happening across The Ditch (Tasman Sea) next week Now there's a wee event happening across 'The Ditch' (Tasman Sea) next week. So I certainly enjoyed writing from the armchair a little while ago, and whilst on that, thanks very much to all of you who read it all around the globe Posted on 5 Mar
Gladwell's Line: Rolling the America's Cup dice
A look at some of the issues that could determine the outcome of the 36th Match, and a score. Sail-World's NZ Editor Richard Gladwell who has been on the water, inside the race course, for every race and practice day of the America's Cup Regattas takes a look at some of the issues that could determine the outcome of the 36th Match, and a score. Posted on 4 Mar
Sara Zanobini on the 2021 Bacardi Cup Invitational
David Schmidt interviews Sara about the event While spring isn't far off, it's solidly winter in North America and competitive One Design sailing is still over the horizon for most sailors. Enter the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta, which promises great racing for J/70, Melges 24 and Star sailors. Posted on 3 Mar
Are hybrid boat shows the way forwards?
Positive at the virtual RYA Dinghy Show, but a new portmanteau needed! I've talked to various people during and since the virtual RYA Dinghy Show and all so far are hailing it as a success. In the UK, the Dinghy Show is the start of the sailing season, and to simply not hold the event would have been a grave mistake. Posted on 2 Mar
Cup news, Vendee Globe finishers, GGR 2022 update
Latest newsletter from Sail-World's David Schmidt in the USA While the America's Cup World Series and the Prada Cup delivered a chance to see AC75s lock horns on the racecourse, it also gave the world a much-needed chance to see what life looks like at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Posted on 2 Mar
Gladwell's Line: A Match of just five days?
A COVID positive 21 yr old going walkabout in South Auckland has had big implications for the Cup A COVID positive 21 yr old going walkabout in South Auckland has had big implications for the Cup - now threatened to be morphed to a four race day event, and sailed on courses on which there has never been a lead change - except for the Patriot capsize. Posted on 2 Mar
Playing the long game
As a Brit I'm of course sad that INEOS TEAM UK didn't progress to the America's Cup match As a Brit I'm of course sad that INEOS TEAM UK didn't progress to the America's Cup match. I'd have loved to see Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott square up against Pete Burling, Blair Tuke and the rest of Emirates Team New Zealand, but it wasn't to be. Posted on 23 Feb
Mark Pincus on the 2021 J/24 Midwinters
An interview with Mark Pincus on the 2021 J/24 Midwinters I checked in with Mark Pincus, regatta chair for the 2021 J/24 Midwinters, via email, to learn more about this competitive regatta. Posted on 23 Feb
Modes and Moods
Nothing beats that feeling when you know you're quicker There are many sailing phrases: high and fast, low and slow, tweak it up a bit, glamourous, in the groove, climbing off them, falling into the dirt. Nothing beats that feeling when you know you're quicker. Posted on 21 Feb
You must win the start!
It's a golden rule of Match Racing and much of your race can be defined by it It's a golden rule of Match Racing and much of your race can be defined by it. Win the start and you've a good chance of winning the race. Posted on 20 Feb
Highfield Boats - SW - FOOTERSelden 2020 - FOOTERNorth Sails 2019 - NSVictoryList - Footer