Northwest Passage-bound sailboat makes stop in Kodiak

The aluminum-hulled sailboat Pangea, seen here Monday evening in St. Herman Harbor, is bound for the Northwest Passage. (Drew Herman photo)

KODIAK — It takes someone who has walked to the North Pole in winter to think the weather is part of Kodiak’s charm.

“You can have four seasons in one day,” said explorer Mike Horn, skipper of the Pangea.

Visitors to St. Herman Harbor could hardly help noticing the 105-foot ketch-rigged sailboat, which arrived July 5 for a brief port call before a transit of the Northwest Passage.

“The boat is built to go anywhere,” Horn said.

It took 11 months to build the aluminum-hulled Pangea, launched in Brazil in 2007.

“It’s still a pretty young boat,” Horn said.

A retractable keel and rudder help make the Pangea a “four-wheel drive of the ocean,” able to navigate shallow rivers, rough seas, and even beach on a pair of landing skids to get away from dangerous ice.

The vessel needs that flexibility to carry out its mission: taking a crew of young people 15 to 20 years old on environmental missions all over the globe. Applicants from around the world vie to join the month-long adventures paid for by Pangea’s sponsors.

The program aims to show them the world’s natural beauty “and teach them how to conserve that natural beauty,” Horn said.

“We’ve lost a lot of, I’d say, respect and contact with nature,” he said. He hopes the experience onboard Pangea turns the participants into “environmental ambassadors,” empowered to make good political and economic decisions. “They will be the CEOs of big companies in the future.”

For each expedition, 24 applicants are selected to train in Switzerland, learning about their destination, ecology, photography and other skills they will need.

“From that 24 we select 12 that come on the expedition,” Horn said. Organizers aim for two team members from each continent, “so we try to get the whole world on the boat.”

The 12 other trainees work in support roles from the Swiss headquarters while the Pangea sets off.

Crewmembers can find themselves traversing the North Atlantic or heading up the Ganges River in India. They may spend time planting trees to reverse deforestation or learning environmentally friendly scuba diving in the South Pacific and seeding coral reefs with key organisms to help regrowth.

“The ocean is a mess, seriously, around Asia,” Horn said. “Our idea is slowly but surely to rebuild the islands.”

Pangea teams try to make connections with local youths to discourage dynamite fishing in sensitive coral areas and promote less invasive tourism.

“We get the fishermen’s kids involved,” Horn said.

Sometimes the crew leaves their vessel far behind, trekking to the Gobi Desert and other remote areas. In May, the previous Pangea team went to the north magnetic pole in the extreme north of Canada.

But with Horn in Kodiak were just an engineer and a bosun to work the boat on its next leg. When Pangea leaves today, it heads north around Alaska to pick up the next crew of young adventurers in northern Canada, then across to Greenland.

“With the ice breaking up and the changes in the Arctic, it is easier to get through,” Horn said.

A native of South Africa, Horn now lives in Switzerland when not sailing, jetting or walking around the world. Although he has spent 20 years on far-flung expeditions, “I still think I’m a young explorer in a way,” he said.

Horn has trekked to both poles and climbed many of Earth’s highest peaks without carrying oxygen. In 808 days from 2003 to 2005, Horn traveled the entire Arctic Circle by sail, foot, ski and kayak.

Despite all that travel, this was his first visit to Kodiak, and even this brief stay was interrupted by a day trip to Singapore to attend a Pangea photography exhibit. But he is sure he will return to the Alaska island he called a paradise little-known to Europeans.

“To me it’s just amazing. It’s such a wild place, and so much to offer,” he said.

Horn said the Pangea welcomes applications from Alaskan youths. Anyone interested can join the Pangea community via the website

Mirror writer Drew Herman can be reached via email at

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