Environmental degradation and global warming are both bad news for humanity – but let’s face it, if you’re over 45 years of age (and not living in a hellhole like Darfur), the odds of having any catastrophic impact on your life are pretty slim.
That doesn’t let us “old fogies” off the hook though. After all, we may not be the “last generation” staring calamity in the face but our kids, or our grandchildren could be.
South African adventurer Mike Horn has trekked over the four corners of our planet for about 20 years and has witnessed the carnage global warming and pollution is causing to our planet first hand.
Some of his achievements include a solo, un-motorised traverse of South America; the circumvolution of the world around the equator; a solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle – by boat, kayak, ski kite and on foot; and he became one of the first people, along with fellow Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland, to travel without dog or motorised transport to the North Pole – in winter!
Always looking to the future, Horn decided to tackle one of his biggest challenges yet – to build a 35-metre environmentally-friendly ocean-going yacht and take groups of young adults aged between 13 and 20 along with him on his 100 000 km, four-year expedition around the globe. His reasoning makes perfect sense, saying “The next generation will have the buying power to enforce positive change. I want to cultivate a respect for the planet’s resources as it’s the only way we’re going to be able to conserve them”.
Naming his expedition and yacht after the supercontinent that existed 250 million years ago, Horn recently made an unscheduled stop in Cape Town while on his way from Antarctica to New Zealand to spread his message.
Although a highly competent man, Horn is aware of his limitations, saying “I’m just an explorer, I don’t know much about environmental stuff. But I can access experts from universities around the world to teach the kids.” On each leg of the journey various specialists join to conduct research, and they slowly introduce science to the “young explorers” along the way. His hope is for them to return home empowered to lobby their peers for positive change.
Mercedes Benz, his main sponsor, provided the bucks to build as well as fund each of the young participants. During the project 12 young adults from each continent will join Horn for a period of 10 – 12 days.
The boat was built in Brazil because that’s the only place where aluminium is produced from hydropower. Aluminium can also be recycled many times without losing its qualities, and recycled aluminium only requires 5 per cent of the energy required to produce it.
As will navigate the Polar Regions it needed to be tough. Featuring thicker aluminium in the bow as well as three waterproof bulkheads and a “crash box” up front, the boat slides up onto the ice and relies on its weight (125 tons when fully loaded) to break through. In Antarctica it navigated 30 cm of ice with no problems at all.
Capable of accommodating up to 30 intrepid travellers, is a comfortable boat all things considered, but it had to be that way. Horn explains, “I’m not used to luxury, but I needed a safe and relatively comfortable platform to legally take youngsters with me to some of the harshest environments on the planet.”
One job that’ll keep Horn’s young volunteers busy is cleaning up ocean debris. features a robust gantry over the stern – making it look like a fishing trawler, albeit with sails. Using low surface nets that don’t catch fish, just rubbish. Horn’s crew can catch up to 10 tons of junk, primarily plastic, per trip. Everything then gets compacted onboard and recycled once enters the next port.
The yacht’s other role is to showcase new technology. Mercedes Benz has committed to change engines every year. Once in New Zealand the two Euro 3+ diesel engines will be removed and replaced with Euro 5 diesel motors. After that Horn will be dumping diesel for hydrogen-fuelled powerplants (the motors have already been developed). As hydrogen is highly volatile the storage canisters will be positioned over the stern just in case something goes wrong. Say’s Horn, “It won’t be the lightest or most efficient system around, but hopefully we can help develop it for home use.”
By the time reaches Yokohama, Japan the solar sails are expected to be ready (Horn is already experimenting with the first prototype). He’s hoping that they can be used to power the electrolysis process to produce the required hydrogen for the new engines. They will also complement the solar panels already mounted on the boat to further help wean Horn’s boat off the onboard generators.
There’s also an intelligent power management system. All crew members wear a chip that lets others know who switched on a light, or how much water they have used. And webcams provide real-time visuals so that even armchair adventurers can get involved. Say’s Horn, “Once this project is over I won’t have enough funds to sail for even one more day. So as soon as the expedition is over she’ll be cut up and recycled.”
* To follow Mike Horn’s Expedition visit www.mikehorn.com