Month: November 2011

Everglades USA Exped – Day 17

Sailing the Florida Keys

My skin made pins as the jibing boom swung over the plane sending the belly of our hundred-ton sailboat lurching edgewise like a stout matron rolling over on her mattress from spine to side.

At the ship's helm, Mike stood bellowing orders in every direction. As the portside deck heaved high above the Atlantic, the starboard side plunged through the surface and a saline spume baptized the stumble-footed masses scurrying for refuge on the high-side. Pangaea was full tilt; her sails gorged with thick Florida air.

Even with my right hand wrapped white-knuckled around a cold metal winch, I felt my bare feet stagger out wide beneath my hips and my toes curl to grasp the wooden deck for equipoise. I was doing a foxtrot stutter-step beseeching solid ground. A sailing vessel, through its tacks and turns, effectively choreographs a kind of dance routine — the deck, a ballroom — as all aboard stride, swerve and sway with synchronized compulsion.

There we were, a small dance company of 20, tripping the light fantastic at sea.

“We’re sailing, babies,” Mike said from behind the wheel with a quiet, self-possessed smile.

Wind in his face and eyes wide as salad plates, he stood steering the vessel. His thick fingers spun the spokes gently through the pads of his hands while his sights set on the surging sails and rolling sea ahead.

One hundred and fifteen feet of aluminum darted through the Lower Keys — a 36-mile stretch of Florida islands between Key West and Marathon.

“We have to get those sheets out or we’ll miss the sunset shot,” Mike said beneath a sky the color of cantaloupe.

His callow, young deckhands hurried at the cue.

“Staysail out!” he called. Even with all hands on deck, no one was free to jump to the staysail position. I was nearest the post and dashed starboard. I dug my thumb into the red button marked STAYSAIL.

“Out, out, out!” Mike called. I pressed harder as if it would make the sail unfurl any faster.

“Stop, Mary! Now IN!”

I peered at the buttons, moving my thumb to the black button beneath the red one.

My thumb was still lame from a kayak paddle hammering into its ulnar collateral webbing for 120 miles. I rowed so hard for those six days through the Everglades, I thought that the plastic paddle wedged between my index finger and thumb might just pare the opposable nub clear off my palm and into the water. Fish food. [My thumb is still attached, though I can hardly feel it still, some seven days since our final stroke through the wilderness waterways.]

My eyes fixed on the button beneath my nail-bed. I glared at it as if I could telepathically will it to depress.

Mike’s hand fell on my shoulder. “Stop, Babes,” he said to me. I was hunched over the button, mounted on the control panel waist-high.
“Pick your head up. Look," Mike instructed resolutely. "Don't just do what I say. See what you are doing when you push the button. That’s how you learn.”

I raised my eyes and watched as the sheets rolled in, tightening around the long spool above the bow of boat. With the command of the button I let it out, cleaning the slack. I watched as the tension ironed the sheet, and then rolled it in tight, so as to finally stretch it out wide until the bare rod was in sight.

And therein lies my sea change within our sea change; a newfound awareness — full sail — on account of Mike’s irreducible ability to grasp every detail of a situation in light of its limitless possibility to teach a lesson.

How many times we look but we do not see?


Everglades USA Exped – Day 18

Florida Bay and Highway 1 Clean Up and Night Diving

Explore, Learn, Act. That's the motto of the PANGAEA Young Explorers Program. During our expedition, we’ve already explored so much of the Everglades and the Florida Keys’ underwater world, and learned a lot from Mike about nature and the human mind. But now, as the expedition slowly comes to an end, we’ve started to act!

Today we did our first beach clean-up. We took the dinghy to a stretch of mangroves between the highway and the ocean. When we arrived and jumped out of the boat we could already see the trash littered along the coast. Equipped with gloves and big trash-bags we started to collect everything that didn't belong to nature. We found heaps of bottles and plastic bags, fishing lines and an oil filter, shoes and even a toilet seat!

Even amidst the litter on the shoreline we did manage to spot a small hammerhead shark swimming just a meter away from our feet.

The most interesting trash we found during the clean up was an old plastic bag filled with small metal artifacts like statues, jewelry, bells and metals carved into small nautical themed trinkets like mermaids, moons, anchors, and life preservers. It took as a while to try and deduce where these thing came from. We ended up guessing that this treasure belonged someone practicing some kind of shamanism who had to much to travel with and had to pitch the heavy bag into the ocean.

After the clean-up and back on Pangaea we made it our mission to climb the first section of the main mast. Rick, Livio and I ended up climbing 9-meters above the water. My heart raced when we decided to jump into the water from there! Taking this last step of jumping down took me a while but when the boys started counting down from 10 I had no choice but to jump. It felt like I was falling until I touched the surface of the water, being surrounded by thousand of little silver air bubbles!

We spent the afternoon working on a little video project (you will see the results soon!) and started the engines to go back to Molasses Reef.

People say that humans know much more about the surface of the moon than about the earth's oceans and that is true! There is so much more to explore in this different world down there. Today we decided to discover the reef at night. After the sunset we descended and met on the ground of the reef. The only things you can actually see under water at night is whatever the light of your torch reaches! We got to swim with sea turtles which actually didn't mind having us around if we treated them with respect. As we have done many dives during the daytime already, this night dive was totally different. All the fish and coral appeared in a different light. This was an unforgettable experience! I am thankful to everyone who made this possible.




Mike’s Blog 29.11.2011

We’re here off the coast of Florida, where tomorrow, November 30, is the last day of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. With the changes in climate, hurricanes are more frequent and the damage is significant. Atlantic hurricanes caused $11 billion in damage this year. If we all, as human beings, make the decision to live in a sustainable way, we can protect nature from ourselves rather than protecting ourselves from nature. When will we stop blaming natural events instead of accepting responsibility for our habits?

Everglades USA Exped – Day 16

Vandenberg shipwreck dives

One of the most important lessons I have learned from Mike Horn on this expedition is the absolute necessity to remain calm. The difference between life and death for an adventurer can often be found in their ability to keep a level head in challenging circumstances.

Diving has been the perfect adventure sport to exercise this need to relax and think clearly. It functions on some what of a paradox: the further you come to the limits of human exploration underwater, the greater the need for the diver to slow their heart rate, relax their breathing, and conserve their physical exertion.

Often when we think of extreme sports, we think of fast-pace, on-the-edge, break-neck activity. But diving is a different beast; it’s a finesse ballet — an underwater mind game where we must remain in constant control of our minds. Our dive today took us deep into a military shipwreck but with Chistian, our sepcialist dive instructor and other qualified instructors in the team, we were well entoured and were able to remain calm and clear-headed, to do our most difficult dive yet.

We are a few days away from the end of the expedition and time is disappearing faster than I am soaking it all up. I wish it wasn't so. I wish I had more time to hear Mike’s stories. I wish there were more dives to plunge and sails to hoist, to be pushed further and harder and learn more from the amazing team which makes all this possible. However, this feeling is a symptom: a tell tale sign of the experience of a lifetime.

This being my last blog, I wish to acknowledge a sentiment of Mike’s expressed in a YouTube clip I watched when first learning about the Pangaea project. This boat, our Pangaea, represents one world. All of us here on this boat, from the Young Explorers, to the team, to Mike himself, have poured their hearts into this expedition. We have treated each other with respect, worked together for the benefit of our family on board this boat, laughed together, encouraged each other, and sustained life aboard as a team. It may be a bold statement not shared by all, but I see Pangaea and this team as a microcosm of how our world needs to work together. If we can take this metaphor, and apply it to our world, where all work together for the sustenance and support of one another, we can ensure the preservation of our environment.

When I set foot on dry land in a few days, I will take the lessons I have learned on this boat and let them serve as inspiration and more importantly, hope, for what our world can be. I believe it.


Pangaea moors at Rodriguez Keys

Pangaea enjoys some great sailing with now the Young Explorers at the helm!! Mike and the crew look on carefully as Pangaea heads north up the Florida Keys. Tonight they moor at Rodriguez Key, in Dade County, Florida.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 15

The Dry Tortugas

After a long night sailing we arrived to the Dry Tortugas. The first sight of Harbor Lighthouse and majestic Fort Jefferson — the massive brick structure that seemed to take up an entire island — was enough to have everyone on deck, passing the binoculars around. After throwing out the anchor and having breakfast together, Mike informed us that it was up to the YEPs to organize the day on this island chain located less than 100 miles from Cuba. It was up to us to decide what we were going to do, and when we were going to do it. Basically PANGAEA was in the hands of the YEPs for the day… What a responsibility!

We discussed the options and decided that it would be best to take the dinghy to land and get some more information about our surroundings from Dry Tortugas National Park office.

So far, what we knew was what we could see: the Tortugas are a cluster of seven small islands composed of coral reefs and sand. The surrounding shoals and water make up Dry Tortuga National Park. Fort Jefferson, whose massive cannons can be seen on the outer wall from miles away, takes up the greater part of a picturesque remote island.

We arrived to shore with feelings of awe and apprehension. It felt as though somebody was about to march out of the fort, read us our rights and arrest us for trespassing. Instead we found the staff to be friendly and informative.

Our unofficial tour guide was called Ray and he was was truly an interesting man. Ray is a retired schoolteacher and present-day volunteer who works at Fort Jefferson for one month each year. Ray informed us that the building of the fort commenced in the 1800’s and after the masons laid 16 Million bricks, the largest brick structure in the Northern Hemisphere was technically never even completed! In fact, the whole entire fort, though once active, never fired one hot shot and was never fired upon. This is due to the fort being decommissioned as a result of civil war technologies which made it, quite suddenly, very outdated.

Ray helped us plan our day and showed us on a local area map where the best places to scuba and snorkel were. I was so impressed by the fort and the enthusiasm of our new friend, that I decided to give him my Mike Horn Wenger Swiss army knife as a token of our appreciation. His gratitude and plans of using it for maintenance at the Fort as well as on future camping trips assured me that I had made the right decision.

We made full use of the afternoon by squeezing in two Scuba dives, the second of which was the wreck of an old sailing ship — the Windjammer — that had ran into the reef during high winds in 1907. The 1,862-ton vessel’s port anchor had been lost in an attempt to slow the ship down and the navigational error caused the wreck. It was amazing to see the anchor lying such a distance away from the ship on the ocean floor. As I was diving it occurred to me how terrifying it must have been to be on board the ship while it was going down, and I wondered at what I would have done if I was put in that situation. It turns out, the entire [Norwegian] crew of the Windjammer survived but the ship was a total loss — although future Scuba divers’ gain! There was a huge amount of fish and coral life to be seen, including a huge barracuda and a giant lobster hiding under what remained of the bow of the ship.

The day came to an end with a rousing celebration of Fred (the Swiss wilderness guide) and Dima (Mike's official photographer) birthday dance party before turning Pangaea back east at 11 PM for an overnight cruise.

With only seven days of the expedition left, we are zooming across the ocean at night so as to make full use of the day light. Tomorrow is sure to be yet another eventful day of diving and excitement. As this is my last blog of the expedition, it is sad to think that this epic experience is drawing to an end. I am extremely grateful to have a part in it, and what I have learned will stay with me for the rest if my life.


Pangaea returns to Key West

Not loosing a minute of valuable time, Mike and his crew sail during the evening so the Young Explorers can start a new day in another corner of this amazing landscape. Now heading east, Pangaea does the loop and returns to the area of Key West.

Everglades USA Exped – Day 14

Windy afternoon in Key West and a Midnight sail to the Dry Tortugas

The day began with a lovely slow start as we rolled out of bed, stretching and yawning, unlike the previous day when Dan woke us up abruptly with some Rebecca Black at seven in the morning. Today (Saturday) we set sail at mid morning to Key West where we were to dive what is considered one of the best shipwrecks on earth. Unfortunately, upon arrival the winds were gusting close to 25 knots causing conditions so unfavorable that we were unable to attach the line from Pangaea to the buoy marking the dive spot line. On each of our several attempts, once the crew managed to hook the buoy (a challenge in and of itself in the blustery/choppy conditions) the rope would snap from the force of the wind and the heft of Pangea.

Eventually, we decided to adapt our plans and change our course for the day but we will, however, be returning back through Key West in the next couple days to try again to get a glimpse at the Russian vessel and explore this incredible underwater vista which Mike calls a, “must-dive.”

There were a few moments of rest today when we weren’t on watch, helping in the kitchen, or cleaning the conference room, these were the times I wished I had my iPod to kick my feet up and chill. My iPod broke two days ago when there were dolphins playing next to the Pangaea, gliding under the waves, dancing in the Listerine blue sea. I got so extremely excited to see these magical creatures in their natural environment that I put my music device into the back pocket of my shorts. What I didn’t remember is that I had already placed a shell in there, collected during our Everglades kayak expedition that I planned to make into a necklace someday. But when I sat down, my iPod’s screen ended up being smushed by the shell.

There was plenty to do on this sunny Saturday. In the late afternoon, Luke, one of the Mike Horn team members, announced that we had the opportunity for some stand-up paddle boarding! The bright yellow boards are kept at the bow of the boat strapped to the rails and we had all been eyeing them curiously for the last week, so we quickly got changed into our swim suits and eagerly jumped into the water. It turned out to be much more difficult than I made it out to be. Surely, we all contributed to the ‘Moose Cut’ expedition outtakes video with all of our hilarious wipeouts. There was quite a strong current that pushed us away from the boat which made it all the more tough, however, all-in-all, it was a breeze compared to the kayaking we did in the Everglades. Dan compared the experience to riding a bike. The more time you spend practising the better you get and by the end of the paddle we all more or less had the hang of it.

At dinnertime we sat in the conference room and did our first live talk show. We young explorers were invited in one by one, and were interviewed by Mike and his oldest daughter, Annika. A tad bit nerve-racking at first, but we all relaxed once we got used to the flow. A discussion of diving, our feelings, and future plans occurred and it would be fair to say it was a great success.

After dinner, Mike announced that we would be hoisting the sails and shoving off at midnight tonight on a 70-mile journey west to the Dry Tortugas. I also cannot be more enthused for what will be in store for us when we get there tomorrow. I am also looking forward to two celebrating two staff birthdays tomorrow. Our talented photographer with the craziest stories, Dmitry “Dima” Sharomov, and Fred, the funny Swiss guide with the contagious laugh each share a birthday on the 27th. There’s always plenty to celebrate here on Pangaea!

Mike’s blog 26.11.2011

You all were so helpful with mosquitos bite home remedies, so… we're now out of the frying pan, but we've gone straight into the fire! What do we do for jellyfish stings?? Is it true that if I pee on my buddy, it relieves the pain?

Mike is in a constant state of travel and adventure , so keep up to date on all his expeditions !