Sailing the Seas From Pole to Pole
For well-prepared Amyr Klink, the adventure is not survival, but 'to get to know the place'. BRAZILIAN EXPLORER
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — AMYR KLINK, solo sailor, fires the imagination. The first to row across the Atlantic single-handedly, he has just returned to his native Brazil from a two-year sailing voyage to Antarctica and the Arctic, covering 27,100 miles. Mr. Klink, 36, spent the southern hemisphere's winter of 1990 in the frozen continent's Dorian Bay. For eight months, his boat was intentionally trapped in the ice.Such a journey inspires images of fierce snowstorms, wailing sub-zero winds, dwindling food supplies, and treacherous ice packs. Nothing could be further from the truth. "All the stories - the boats, explorers, and expeditions that went down there - they were peopled with dramas and quasi-fiascos and endless problems and struggles against the dark cold, these silly things," Klink says, sitting comfortably in his urban office here. The walls are lined with a complete collection of National Geographic magazines dating back to 1888. "I always dreamed of making a trip there, but without problems, to see it, to dedicate my time not to survival in the elements, but to really g et to know the place." Klink took two years to prepare for his trip. Sponsored by a $1.9 million grant from the Brazilian steel and elevator manufacturer, GrupoVillares, he left his hometown of Paraty in the state of Rio de Janeiro in December 1989. His boat, the 50-foot Paratii, had been especially designed for the Antarctic winter and the voyage that followed, in which he crossed the equator twice. His food, developed for him by the local Nutrimental Alimentos food manufacturer, was largely dehydrated and included a winter diet, a sailing diet, and a diet for vitamin deficiency. The Paratii carried more than 300 books, many compact discs and cassette tapes, 19 months' worth of supplies, and 728 gallons of diesel oil. The total outgoing weight was 22 tons. Because he was carefully prepared, Klink did get to know the Antarctic. He got so well acquainted with his neighbors - about 300 to 400 penguins living only 500 feet from his boat - that he named one couple Teodoro and Mariana and learned to do their Charlie-Chaplin waddle so as not to frighten them. He observes that these animals have the same faults as humans, but that they work their problems out to the benefit of the community. "They walk thousands of kilometers, night and day, to find little stones for their nests. They carry them in their beaks one at a time, and the nests consume three or four thousand stones, so it's three or four thousand trips looking for stones," says Klink. "And sometimes if one wasn't looking, another would steal a stone, and the first would complain until the one who st ole gave back a stone!" Klink does not see himself as an adventurer or explorer. Unlike a Frenchman he met up with who spent the same winter in Antarctica, the Brazilian sailor does his best to avert the unexpected. The Frenchman "went out with 250 kilos [551 lbs.] of muesli for one year.... For nothing in the world would I do what this guy did, the close calls he went through, the almost-disasters a thousand times." For Klink, going to the brink, literally, is "an absolutely normal thing." One day, he fell through the ice. "It's statistically impossible not to fall in a seal hole," he calmly explains. The real fright, he admits, came the second day out, when he accidentally left open the gas valve on his cooking stove, and almost blew the boat and himself to smithereens. There was also the time an unruly block of ice threatened to destroy the Paratii. But Klink feels the earlier challenge of getting his boat designed and built, and the logistics of equipping it with enough spare parts, toilet paper, toothpaste, napkins, thread, and materials to repair the sails, was bigger than the task of freeing the boat, which took him 13 hours with a chain saw. Brazilians, a gregarious people, find it hard to understand how or why Klink spends so much time alone. But Klink says he never feels lonely on his travels. In fact, he does not undertake them in search of solitude. He likes single-handed sailboats because they are technically more advanced than those sailed by a crew. "You have to sleep, the boat has to have its own balance, it has to be extremely resistant, fast, and lots of other things.... That's what fascinates me about these boats: You're a continu ously moving mass," he explains. "I sailed for almost two months and I maybe put my hand on the rudder for 10 hours. The rest of the time the boat went by itself. Physical isolation in this type of experience has absolutely nothing to do with solitude." During the long winter, the Paratii became a home base. Klink spent his time doing boat maintenance, collecting snow to melt for the water he needed to bathe and cook; skiing, sledding, exploring the open water in his inflatable dinghy, listening to music, talking with friends on his shortwave radio, and reading. Best reads, he says, were "The Roots of Coincidence," by Arthur Koestler, and a French translation of The Arabian Nights. He also collected water samples and meterological data for Brazilian res earchers and carried out an experiment to learn how petroleum degrades in the Antarctic climate. When the noise of the wind became too much to bear on the boat, he spent time in a nearby ice cave. Amazingly, Klink says the time went so fast that he left some projects undone. The biggest lesson of Klink's latest seagoing experience, he says, is the importance of departing. "The worst thing that can happen in a person's life isn't getting into a fix, [or] not being able to get back, or having to give up. It's not departing, no matter what the project is." In February, Klink left Antarctica for South Africa, and then sailed on to the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, located in the Arctic. He says he met some people there who are helping him prepare for his next project, which he is keeping a secret. Two clues: He says he wants to return to the Arctic and that he is very interested in Viking boat construction.