After spending the last couple months in Australia around Sydney, Brisbane and exploring the Simpson desert, it’s time for me to head to New Caledonia!
Our time in Australia was the opportunity for us to maintain Pangaea, still suffering from its trip down to Antarctica. I also embarked a bunch of international journalists on an exciting trip in the great Australian outback, here are some pics!
Cape Town, South Africa – Mike Horn and his crew have finally left the V&A waterfront Marina onboard Mike’s sailing vessel Pangaea, to make their way south towards Antarctica, where Mike plans to cross the continent via the South Pole in under 4 months.
Mike and his crew expect a rough 2-week sail across the Southern Ocean before they meet Antarctica’s icy coasts. There, Mike will set foot onto land and begin the longest and most perilous leg of the Pole2Pole expedition to date: the solo and unsupported crossing of the Antarctica continent passing via the South Pole. Mike will undertake this crossing on skis, with the assistance of snow kites when the winds turn into his favour. This journey should see Mike over roughly 5’000 km of various terrains, which he aims to accomplish in the span of 3 to 4 months. Mike anticipates covering approximately 55km per day over 90 days.
Similar feats have been attempted and succeeded in the past, yet Mike’s overall itinerary is a never-done before adventure. When asked why he chose this specific route, Mike simply explains: “It is the longest, and it is never been done before! But the aim of this traverse is not to beat any world records. The aim is to draw attention to the fragile environment, and as an explorer, to extend my knowledge and discover the limits of human capabilities.” Mike also draws a strong parallel between this upcoming Antarctica crossing and his many climbing expeditions: “What I love about high altitude climbing is that the summit is only halfway, and that most often it is the way down the mountain that is most dangerous. My mountaineering experience made me rethink my goals. That is when I realised that I needed to change my perception: The aim should not be to reach the summit or the pole, these should simply be my halfway marks. The aim is to make it back home alive!”
Departing from sea level, close to the Russian station Novolazarevskaya, Mike will begin his traverse with a challenging walk up onto the Antarctica plateau (3000m). Pulling a 200kg sledge behind him, Mike will be transporting his equipment and food for the length of the adventure along with him. Mike’s daily meals include high-calorie snacks such as nuts and chocolate, and lyophilised food (Trek’n Eat) kindly supplied by Katadyn. In order to withstand the extreme temperatures (up to – 40˚C), Mike plans on consuming between 5000 and 7000 calories per day. Once onto the plateau, Mike will head straight towards the South Pole. During this time, Mike will hope for favorable winds to use his snow kites, which will allow him to cover large distances over short periods of time. With winds up to 300km/h, the ideal equipment had to be designed to ensure Mike’s safety. Specific kites were thus designed, as well as multifunctional ski boots, giving him the flexibility needed to walk, and the rigidity needed to kite.
On previous expeditions, Mike missed out on perfect weather opportunities and wasted a great amount of time setting up his tent in order to change his walking boots to his skiing boots. Dahu, a Swiss ski boot manufacturer, therefore created a prototype to be tested for the first time on the ice to help Mike save time. As for insulation, Swiss brands Mover and Babbuk paired up to develop a warm and breathable shoe insulation to fight the extreme cold. Swiss clothing brand Scott Sports has provided Mike with the rest of the clothing and equipment.
Once Mike makes it across, he will reach out to his crew who will then pick him up near the French Station Dumont d’Urville, his destination. Once the traverse completed, Mike and his crew will sail onwards to New Zealand where the next phases of the Pole2Pole expedition will unfold.
Throughout his journey, Mike will use satellite communications to update his team on the expedition’s progress, all of which will be shared on the www.mikehorn.com website and Mike’s social media channels. In partnership with Inkwell and The Red Bulletin, Mike will be broadcasting the next two months in a series of Facebook Live episodes. Once on the ice, Mike will be sending regular audio and photo updates via his Iridium satellite devices (GO and Extreme) and capturing imagery with his iPhone7 Plus and Moment Lens add-ons for exceptional mobile photography from Antarctica.
The boat buzzes with Young Explorers, each with a job to leave Pangaea, our home for the past ten days, in a condition Mike is happy with, and we sit and reflect on the Pole2Pole Shark Project. To try and find one word to describe it would be difficult but the word that comes to mind is, ‘dynamic.’ The people we interacted with, our team and what we did were all remarkably, dynamic.
Working with Shark Spotters, the Laureus ‘Sport for Good’ Foundation, Waves for Change and GrassRoot Soccer gave our project a scientific and social aspect to our time here in Cape Town. It was both inspiring and motivating to work with such passionate and dedicated people in each of these organisations and gave us great hope for future change. The shark tagging expedition contributed valuable data to increase what we know about the seven-gill shark species here in South Africa and allowed Young Explorers the opportunity to be hands on in a once in a life time experience. The shark diving day allowed us to really interact with shark species in their natural habitat and was aimed at abolishing the negative stereotypes that the media associate with sharks. The second part of our project included engaging with local communities and allowed us an insight into a world that we are extremely sheltered from. These experiences are vital for global awareness and personal growth and allow us to identify key areas that require change as well as the tools in order to drive that change.
An unexpected positive impact of this project was the reunion of Young Explorers from different expeditions and from all around the world. Each person felt revitalized and our passion to drive social and environmental change was fuelled. Conversations were always inspiring and excitement for our future was tangible. Working as a team of Young Explorers is an extraordinary experience with dynamic individuals contributing a variety of skill sets and expertise to create something unique and highly impactful.
Ultimately, this project is just the beginning of many Pole2Pole projects to come. Our team of over 200 “Young” Explorers have grown to become veterinarians, scientists, journalists, communicators, and everything in between. Mike will be completing his extraordinary circumnavigation of the planet for the next two years; our fundamental aim is to utilize our diverse group of young people to drive the environmental and social change that the world needs.
Education is the key,
Let us rewrite history,
On the fields we will learn,
And our lives will take a turn.
Grassroots Soccer is the place,
Where we begin to chase,
Our dreams, big or small,
We are supported through it all.
Laureus Foundation run the show,
And enable us to grow,
Self confidence and respect,
Their involvement is direct.
From land to sea we travelled,
Our love for surf unravelled.
Uncontainable joy and pride,
When we get up for the ride,
To stand up for ourselves,
Into our full potential we delve.
Working with local groups,
Rallying international troops,
When we all come together,
We create bonds that we’ll treasure.
United by our common goal,
We all need to play our role,
Give more, consume less,
Let’s clean up this mess.
These poems were inspired by our activities today which included joining the Grassroots Soccer Programme and Waves for Change surfing programme in the Khayetlisha Township, just outside of Cape Town. We were moved by how the Laureus team use these sports to both instil life skills as well as build confidence in the youth. We were overwhelmed by how much joy and love the children had to give and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with them on the soccer field and in the waves. Our team took away many learnings and insights including the power of sport as a means of uniting and connecting people and the ability to empower through creating a sense of belonging.
It’s encouraging to know this isn’t country specific and we’re excited about how we can all better utilise sport to connect and empower our communities.
Imagine a sea of smiling, laughing children barreling towards you as you hear the ring of the school bell echo across the courtyard. “Back to class guys!”, you shuttle them along and into line. Today we were invited by the Laureus Project to visit the Welcome Primary School for their school day. It was a day of play, games, sport, thoughtful reflection and deep conversations. I think Sophia and I speak for all of the other Young Explorers, even the ones originally from or currently residing in South Africa, that this was one of the most educational school days we have ever had in our lives. The insights that we garnered from talking with the first to sixth graders about their favorite hobbies, difficult subjects in school, and why their father was never home, were profound and perspective-shifting.
Thanks to the hard work and organization of the Laureus Project, the children spend a large part of their free time exercising. You would be impressed by the diversity of activities! We joined in for the first part of the day in skipping rope, playing football (I was bested by speedy children half my size), cricket and jumping/running/skipping/clapping games of all kinds. ‘SPORT FOR GOOD’ were the words on the T-shirts of the Laureus participants. We could witness first hand how sport indeed can change people’s lives, bring them together and build up their confidence.
We broke up into smaller groups with a few Young Explorers for a group of children and discussed topics such as what they think happens to the plastic bag of chips they threw away, are they afraid of sharks and what does a Russian polar bear look like. The second half of the day was spent planting trees in the backyard field of the school. We used the opportunity to discuss why deforestation is an issue and how it affects our entire biome and the negative effects trickle down to affect the ocean environment. The day finished up by visiting an after school program for the kids, where coaches teach them how to box, play basketball and skip rope. Full of new experiences and reflections, we set off home while discussing the enriching day we had. We were all very impressed with the Laureus project, their dedicated team leaders and the huge difference that one can make locally, if they put their heart into something they believe in.
My ears perked up at the sound of conversation nearby and forcefully opened my eyes. Could it be 6am already? It felt like I had just gone to bed. I was feeling nervous, a little apprehensive and excited. Today was a much anticipated day. Freshly qualified as an open water diver, this would be the first time I would officially dive, and we would be diving with sharks. Wow.
I swallowed down a quick breakfast, loaded my bag with gear and off we went. Looking up through the windscreen I gazed at droplets falling from the threatening skies. The chill in the air and ominous clouds didn’t really calm my nerves.
We arrived at the Dive Shop, suited up in thick neoprene, and made our way to the dive site. Previously known as Pyramid Rock, the renowned Shark Alley has been renamed due to regular shark sightings. Gave me shivers. I felt cold water trickling into my wetsuit and down my back as I descended into the kelp forest below. I gave my dive buddy the signal and we all met at the sea floor. Two darth vaders under water. I had to stay focused in order to remain close to the group seeing that the visibility was low. The idea that a shark would only be visible once it was within 5 metres of me was an uncomfortable thought.
A sense of freedom overcame me as I glided through the water. Seeing marine life that is exposed to a really small percentage of the world left me feeling humbled and in awe. I felt a something poke me on the shoulder and I turned around to see my dive buddy frantically pointing to the left. And believe it or not, there was a shark! Instantly all my senses were alert and I felt so alive. Every fibre of my being was tuned into the movements of this fascinating animal. For a few seconds time stood still. I gazed at the beauty in which the shark wove through the kelp. Calm. At ease. Content. At first I thought these words were fitting to describe the shark, but I realised that those were actually my own feelings.
Being able to see a shark in its own environment was surreal. Fear was replaced by awe. The shark and I were in the same space and we were both okay. I didn’t think I would be okay if faced with a situation like this. Before disappearing, the final swish of its tail was like a confirmation of our companionship. I think I would like to see him again.
“Shark! We have another shark!” Yesterday, 22.23 o’clock, the fifteenth shark was in the books. This meant that we surpassed everybody’s expectations, since we all had thought we would catch far fewer sharks. This fifteenth shark is the end of our scientific shark research. Now, being back in Cape Town Harbor we had some time to reflect on those eventful and busy days spent onboard Pangaea.
I was personally always quite reserved towards sharks. Coming from Germany, where sharks don’t play a big role in the media, I never came in touch with the topic of sharks. That’s why in the beginning I stayed rather passive, watched the specialists do the work and was nervous about joining in. However, when I saw Dr. Allison Kock and her team bring the first shark onboard, I realized that there is no reason to be afraid of these animals. I looked at the shark, a 1.87m male, and was amazed by the sheer sight of it. Never had I dreamed that I would see a shark or even get the chance to touch it and be involved in the process of tagging it. I realized how beautiful those animals are, just as beautiful as any other kind of living being on this planet. This first encounter with a shark took all my fears away and I even jumped into the water after the first day of tagging, without being afraid of the animals that live beneath the surface. This experience once again showed me that fear is oftentimes only caused by a lack of knowledge.
Looking back, all Young Explorers feel extremely privileged of having had the unique opportunity to join a world class shark research team on one of their field trips. But not only joining and watching, but even being actively involved in the whole process. Only when you come in contact with a shark first hand, you can form a judgment about this endangered species, which is often portrayed in a very misleading way.
We left the familiar waters of Dassen Island and set sail bright and early into the rocking waves of the Atlantic. Our destination was an unexplored lagoon, where no sharks had been tagged before. Research around the world has shown that shallow, sheltered waters, like those in the lagoon we set sail for, often are of particular importance for shark reproduction. We were rewarded with three large females and one smaller male that we successfully tagged. They averaged 2.4 meters in length and over a meter in girth. Their large size necessitated the use of a mesh cage making them more difficult to control. Two out of the three sevengills had bite marks on their sides, which were most likely inflicted by male sharks during mating.
Feeling more confident with the new skills and practice the Young Explorers gained the last few days, we were much more involved with the tagging process, even though these sharks were significantly larger than those caught on previous days. Throughout the day we were once again amazed by the many skills and knowledge that each member of the diverse shark project team bring to the table. In one corner you could see people learning how to tie sailing knots, in the other they were practicing surgical stitching. Everyone had something to offer the group. Once again we were enthralled by Mike’s passion for exploration. We gathered around to his endless stories of childhood dreams becoming reality which ended in discussions on the feasibility of interplanetary travel.
Imagine living on an island by yourself for four years.
There is no one to talk to apart from birds and penguins, and the closest town is a six-hour boat ride away. Intriguingly, it’s the reality of Marlene – a woman we met at Dassen Island this afternoon while navigating to our next shark tagging spot.
“I’m not a people person,” she told us, while showing us around her backyard. “I get to see people sometimes, about once a month.”
The rest of the time she walks laps around the island to count bird colonies, some of which are endangered. To get there we had to sail for several hours while whales, sea lions and dolphins followed Pangaea.
It was a peaceful end to a day that started in a rush. We got woken up by the sound of marine scientists trying to catch sharks at the back of the sailboat at 5am. Still rubbing our sleepy eyes, we made our way to the navigation room where we started our anchor watch.
The following hours were exciting as we tagged four more sharks, bringing our total to nine on this trip. Dr Alison Kock and her team took advantage of our different skills to help tag the sharks and record our findings. It was more hands-on than yesterday but we enjoyed getting out of our comfort zones, even jumping into the sharky water for a swim afterwards.
We also convinced Marlene to get out of her comfort zone and invited her to join us for dinner onboard before she returned to her beloved, beautiful paradise.