Extreme explorer takes on adventures around the world

“Man overboard!” the tanned, rugged-looking man yelled out. We were sailing on the Pangaea, a sea vessel belonging to South Africa-born Swiss explorer Mike Horn. No one was actually overboard – everyone was safe.

Horn was showing members of the media what to do if someone were to fall off the Pangaea, which means “one Earth” in Greek. “After sounding the alert and turning off the engine, keep one eye on the person overboard, while getting the lifebuoy and throwing it to him,” he explained.

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Horn at the helm of the Pangaea. Photo: The Star/Ming Teoh

Smooth and comfortable drive

Earlier, members of the media took turns to drive the latest Mercedes Benz GLC series from Kuala Lumpur to Port Dickson to meet with Horn and his crew, Jacek Proniewicz from Poland and Laure Berthonneau from France. My “partner-in-drive” and I drove the GLC200, an SUV. Despite the wet, rainy day, it was a smooth and comfortable drive.

Once we arrived at Port Dickson, we boarded the Pangaea and listened with rapt attention to Horn, 51. He talked about how he started sailing the Pangaea on the Young Explorers Programme in 2008. “We brought 200 young people aged 15 to 20 years – the top physical and mental performers from all over the world – on 12 different expeditions to New Zealand, Antarctica, Mongolia, Russia, Indonesia, Canada, India and other destinations,” he shared.

Explore, learn, act

“Each trip had a social and environmental purpose. The goal was to ‘explore, learn, act’. The kids had the opportunity to learn about ice, reconstruct corals, clean beaches and plant trees. The world is a fragile place and in order to protect it, we need to respect it, as well as respect one another,” Horn continued.

The Pangaea is unique as it was built using green technology, and the hull is made of 100% recycled aluminium. The yacht uses a Mercedes-Benz engine that was initially designed and produced for powerful trucks.

“It’s also unpainted and an ice-breaker (ship that’s able to navigate through ice-covered waters). The Pangaea is like the 4WD of the ocean,” he said.

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The media try their hand at the “coffee grinder”, a huge winch on a pedestal used to help raise heavy sails. Photo: The Star/Ming Teoh

North to South

Horn’s latest expedition is the Pole2Pole, where he traversed the globe from the South Pole to the North Pole in two years from 2016 to 2017. Starting at the Yacht Club Monaco, he travelled via land in sponsored vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, then sailed the Pangaea from Africa to the Antarctica, Oceania, Asia, the Arctic, and back to Europe.

During this most recent expedition, he also complete the longest unsupported, solo North-to-South crossing of the Antarctica, covering 5,100km, using just skis and kites to pull him across snow and ice. It took him 57 days. According to Horn, this is his most memorable adventure to date.

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Horn, who speaks seven languages, climbing up the mast to fix the sails. Photo: The Star/Ming Teoh

Childhood dream

“This was my childhood dream, and achieving it is a milestone in my career as an explorer. It took me over 25 years of exploring just to acquire the knowledge and experience to undertake such a feat.”

It was also his most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging adventure, he revealed. “I was pressed for time, needed to traverse the continent before winter or I would have been left to die. I fell down crevasses, lost some of my equipment, and broke many bones!”

First adventure

When he was younger, Horn studied Human Movement Science at a university in South Africa, and worked in the field of sports science. In 1997, he went on his first big adventure to South America where, from the Pacific Ocean, he climbed up the Peruvian Andes to the Amazon river source. He then riverboarded 7,000km down the river to the Atlantic Ocean.

The solo unsupported expedition took him six months; he hunted, foraged and fished to survive.

Equatorial exploration

Horn then went on the Latitude Zero expedition in 1999, where he traversed the Equator by bike, boat and on foot. The 18-month expedition took him from Gabon in Central Africa, through Brazil, Ecuador, Borneo and Sumatra, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. It was the first solo unassisted circumnavigation of the world around the Equator.

From 2002 to 2004, Horn went on the Arktos expedition, where he boated, kayaked, ski-kited, and trekked around the Arctic Circle. The 20,000km solo non-motor-assisted expedition took him slightly over two years. From North Cape in Norway, he went through Greenland, Canada, Alaska, the Bering Strait and Siberia in Russia.

Mountain conquests

Apart from these expeditions, Horn has also gone on some of the most difficult mountain conquests. These include the Gasherbrum 1 (K5 or Hidden Peak/world’s 11th highest peak), Gasherbrum 2 (K4/13th highest) and Broad Peak (12th highest) on the Pakistan–China border; Makalu (fifth highest) on the Nepal-China border; and K2, which is the world’s second highest peak in Pakistan. Horn successfully drove through difficult terrain, from Switzerland through 13 countries to Pakistan, but did not climb to the summit due to bad weather.

When asked whether he has time for family life, being on the road all the time, the widower replied: “My late wife, Cathy, was incredible. She was the core of all my expeditions, and now, my two daughters have filled her role.

“Thanks to her, I was able to execute a lot of my expeditions so perfectly. She was organised, considerate, and a doer. Our family expeditions remain some of my best memories as an explorer, husband, and father.”

Starting ’em young

Horn’s daughters are now aged 24 and 25 and have followed him around the world from a very young age. “I brought them to Canada when they were 11 and 12, and we crossed an island that was 500km wide and climbed a small unnamed peak. That was the only preparation for the year after, when I brought them to the North Pole. They were the youngest girls to ski to the North Pole at the age of 12 and 14!” he shared, beaming with pride.

Having travelled to so many places, it is not surprising to discover that Horn is quite the linguist, speaking seven languages: Afrikaans, English, Spanish, French, Russian, German and Dutch. His daughters can speak five languages.

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Horn speaks to a rapt audience at EX8, Subang Jaya, Selangor, about his extreme expeditions. Photo: Mercedes-Benz Malaysia

Purposed to inspire

Horn is also a motivational speaker and uses his experiences as an explorer to motivate not just athletes and sports enthusiasts, but folks with physically and mentally challenging jobs too. On top of that, he has published six books in French (with English translated versions) and participated in two French television shows.

His recent visit to Malaysia wasn’t his first. In fact, Horn has been here 13 times. “I love coming here. The scenery is breathtaking and the people, friendly. It’s not my first time, and it definitely won’t be my last.”