Mike Horn: Extreme Explorer on Conservation Aboard The Pangaea Eco Yacht

Solar, wind and diesel powered Pangaea on global awareness mission.

Singapore, 15 October 2009. I walked up to the yacht of the famed explorer Mike Horn, and hesitated. Instead of a bright and flashy sailboat that sparkled with gilded trimmings at every angle, the grey unpainted vessel seemed to me like a boat docked, waiting for repair.

I wondered if I had gotten the right yacht, at One Degree Fifteen Marina, Sentosa.

But the logos of Mercedes-Benz and Officine Panerai on the white sail - sponsors of the Mike Horn Pangaea Expedition - made me think twice. This had to be the yacht on a global conservation expedition with youths on board to help “save the world”. 

Such was the simplicity of the exterior. But the mission itself is far from simple. It inspires young adults to stand up for Gaia as they cruise around the world to embark on various programmes that will heal nature and bond cultures.

The Pangaea Sailboat – An Eco-friendly and Smart Vessel

James Bond would have loved this if he were on an earth-saving mission. The 35 metre (115 feet) long yacht that sleeps 30 people was built as a hardy multi-terrain conservation vessel that navigates through ice at the Antarctic as well as braves through monsoon storms in the Far East.

Steering towards a better ecosystem.

The hybrid yacht is powered by a set of retrofitted Mercedes-Benz diesel engines while solar panels and wind turbine provide additional boost. When the wind picks up, the motor is switched off, and sail takes over like a lark on flight. There are plans in the future to switch to Mercedes-Benz BlueTech solution in the set of engines, for “lowest CO2 emissions” according to Mike.  The exhaust emissions will then be controlled by a multi-stage filter system that provides clean diesel, reducing nitrogen oxide by up to 90%.

Another marvel was the state-of-the art communication technology and conference facilities on board. Those would have kept Bond in touch with Q for his next spy mission on the fly!

But Mike had no such fancy notions. He designed the vessel essentially for ocean cleanup. Built in Brazil, its customized design enables the the boat to get close to sites of pollution and to use its trawling nets to dredge, scoop, haul and compress plastics right on the specially built “boat garage”. “The size of Mexico – that’s how much plastic waste is out there in the Pacific Ocean,” Mike belaboured, having fished out more than a ton of rubbish since the expedition began. “And plastics kill the fish, reptiles, turtles, disturbing the biodiversity of the ocean.”

The compacted plastics remain on the boat until it docks at the next recycling facility on the mainland.

Mike Horn has decided to live according to what he preaches, and his boat is a testimony to his zeal to save the world. “Painting a boat emits more than a ton of greenhouse gas emissions. So I decided to leave out the paint job on the Pangaea,” said Mike. Once the mission is over, the boat will be taken apart. Materials such as steel casing, aluminium hull, bamboo flooring and glass will be recycled.

“It’s not fancy, but purposefully built,” he grinned.

Young Explorers - Youth Power

Why youths? “I want to show youths through science the beauty of the world. And to clean up the carbon footprint,” said Mike, adding that the participants will in effect become world ambassadors for the environment.

Young Explorers on a coral reef building mission at Lankayan island.

But he only recruits kids from developed countries. If this smirks of discrimination, consider his rationale – that they are in a better position to spread the word to the contented societies of origin compared to youths of deprived backgrounds where they are already living within their means, and maybe even sustainably.

“I take kids to troubled places for emotional bonding and background.”

The programme works like this. Youths from around the world between 13 and 20 years of age apply to go on this conservation mission, and when selected are invited to Switzerland for a two-week training camp. Following rigorous leadership and teamwork sessions, only shortlisted ones get to go on the Pangaea on any of the missions spread over two years (see below for schedule). All costs are sponsored, so send your teenager to this!

Borneo Adventure

A youth notes the barrel sponge during the coral transect.

Nine teenagers on the Borneo leg of the global conservation mission in November discovered how to make a difference to the marine life surrounding Lankayan island. They helped build an artificial coral reef in the shape of an aeroplane, “providing a new ecosystem supporting coral and fish”.

Transacts of reefs were done for research and turtle eggs were moved for protection from poachers.

The Pangaea anchored overnight off a tiny island called Sebaung where around 400 square metres of debris were washed up from the ocean. Most of the pollutants were – yes you guessed it right – plastics, and there were “loads and loads of them”.

Apart from plastic bottles, there were old shoes, fishing line, polystyrene, plastic bags, chip packets, cigarette lighter and more. Within an hour, the youths fished out ten large dustbin bags full of rubbish that was then compressed aboard.

One discovery in the litter encountered was sodium cyanide in plastic ampoules. These are typically used for illegal method of trapping live fish for the aquarium trade. Dr Roswitha Stolz, a physical geographer from the University of Munich aboard the Pangaea, explained that “of all the fish caught, only 4% make it to the destination alive.”

Egg counting before transfer to a hatchery on Lankayan island.

In Sandakan, northeast Borneo, the Young Explorers assisted rangers at the orang-utan sanctuary at Sepilok. Here orphaned babies are taken in and sheltered when their primate parents have been killed or displaced by the disruptive palm oil plantations. The Young Explorers are planning to do more.

“We’re really excited because we’ll be adopting our own Pangaea orang-utan, and covering the rehabilitation costs for a year – and hopefully longer – so that it can eventually be reintroduced to the wild,” said Garrett Celestin, 15, from the United States. “We have a lot of ideas for raising funds when we get home at our schools and within the Young Explorer community.”

In earlier expeditions, the youths on board the Pangaea laid traps to bring down the invasive stoats in Fjord lands, made IDs for tagging of dolphins surrounding New Zealand, planted trees and cleaned up more spots in the ocean.

Mike Horn - Explorer Extraordinaire

Mike Horn as an extreme adventurer in the last 20 years tasted dirt in his mouth, smelt danger, traversed unchartered terrains, and felt excruciating pain just to conquer the impossible.

“I like danger. I get motivated by danger, to overcome it,” said Mike plainly.

Mike crossed the Amazon mostly on foot and with the pirogue.

He’s braved treacherous icy winter in the Arctic, swam 7,000km across the Amazon and trekked around the equator, just to highlight a few of his expeditions. He broke the world record for the highest descent of a waterfall (22m) with a hydrospeed, on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica. And he reached the tip of the North Pole, on foot.

And this is how he likes it. “How do you live your life?  I life my life to the fullest,” he said. Mike in fact lost the tips of his fingers due to a nasty frostbite in the unassisted crossing of the North Pole, but a month later carried on with his Arctic Circle circumnavigation.

“If you’re afraid of losing, you can never win.”

Mike made some observations as he journeyed the ends of the world and in the thick of the rainforest. At the Arctic circle, he witnessed ice blocs breaking up rapidly, due to global warming. This makes it hard for polar bears to hunt, eventually upsetting the fragile ecosystem.

Mike and Cathy Horn have two girls, Annika and Jessica.

This knowledge has spurred him to be a conservationist, through the Pangaea expedition, which will go around the world for two and a half years. On each stops, different groups of youths will join him and his crew to experience different cultures while addressing environmental challenges.

Mike Horn is an example of how an individual can make a difference to the world, in particular, saving Gaia creatively. “It’s not about what goes around and comes around, but what’s in your heart,” said Mike, speaking of his motivation behind the Pangaea expedition involving youths. Mike is joined by his wife Cathy on most of these expeditions who delights the youths with her fine cooking.

The Pangaea is partnered by main sponsor and presenter Mercedes-Benz, and supported by other corporate brands.

The Ship Sails

29th Nov -> 9th Dec 2009 : Camp India (10 days)


17th Jan -> 2nd Feb : Expedition India (17 days)

 21st Feb -> 3rd Mar : Camp Himalaya (10 days) 

23th May -> 10th Jun : Expedition Himalaya (19 days)

4th Jul -> 14th Jul : Camp China (10 days) 

22nd Aug -> 7th Sep : Expedition China (17 days)

10th Oct -> 20th Oct : Camp Kamtchaka (10 days) 

28th Nov -> 14th of Dec : Expedition Kamtchaka (17 days)