German Explorer

Last Man Sailing

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As climate change causes more extreme weather conditions, sailing expeditions become more dangerous.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Arved Fuchs was the first person to reach both the North and South Pole on foot in the same year.
    • He has witnessed climate change first-hand over the past two decades, especially in the form of polar ice retreating.
    • At 62 years old, Mr. Fuchs still goes on expeditions around the world.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf
Arved Fuchs startet zu Expedition
German adventurer Arved Fuchs on his boat "Dagmar Aen". Source: DPA

It’s the wind that’s his toughest enemy, always the wind. When Arved Fuchs crossed Antarctica in 1989, it was the headwinds that made the trip an ordeal.

Together with one of Europe’s most famous mountaineers, German-speaking Reinhold Messner, Mr. Fuchs had set out to travel all across the frozen continent, planning on using paragliders on their sleds to speed up the journey.

But the icy wind had made the terrain rugged, or it faced them head on.

The two men inched their way to the South Pole by foot, only on their way back to the coast they could use the paragliders. Mr. Fuchs spent a total of 92 days crossing the world’s most inhospitable continent.

Yet, almost 30 years later, it’s still the wind that makes the professional adventurer’s life a challenge. Just last summer, the 62-year-old was on his way back from Patagonia in South America to his native Germany, when he got caught in a storm. “Adverse weather,” is what Mr. Fuchs called it.

Blasts of force 10 on the Beaufort scale hit his antique sailing boat “Dagmar Aaen” and giant waves buried it. “It was an extreme experience,” Mr. Fuchs said. “A crushing wave hitting the deck just washes you away, you can’t hold on.” That’s when it came down to the safety rope.

“I was struggling to survive,” he added, uttering the words in the most casual fashion.

Over the years, Mr. Fuchs has become an expert of the world’s oceans and poles – and a witness to climate change.

For the first man to reach both the North and South Pole by foot in the same year, getting caught in a storm on an 18-meter (60-foot) boat is just a minor ripple. “It could have been much worse,” he said.

And so he doesn’t plan to change anything about his life as a professional adventurer, a life he’s been leading ever since that 1989 trip. His house in Bad Bramstedt, close to Hamburg in northern Germany, serves as the headquarters where he plans expeditions and public speaking engagements to finance them.

It’s the house he grew up in as a child. He put a world map up on the wall, criss-crossed by fine dashed lines of all the voyages he’s undertaken over the past 30 years.

When he was a child, Mr. Fuchs’ grandparents lived on Sylt, an island off the North Sea coast of Germany and Denmark, where he went to school for a while. It was then, standing at the beach overlooking the sea, that he started wondering what was lying beyond the horizon. It’s a child-like impulse that continues to drive him to this day. He considers himself one of the last specimens of the romanticized idea of a “classical expedition.”

An adventurer’s landscape is also harder to find these days. Mr. Fuchs knows. Over the years, he has become an expert of the world’s oceans and poles – and a witness to climate change.

First, he started noticing subtle changes during his sailing trips off the Norwegian region of Nordland that could still have been nature’s whims. But after talking to locals, he slowly started to understand a systematic context.

Arved Fuchs startet zu Expedition
Arved Fuchs. Source: DPA

A key moment in this process came in 2002, when Mr. Fuchs was sailing the Northern Sea Route. He had previously failed crossing the passage north of Siberia in 1991, 1992 and 1994, each time getting stuck in ice. But on that latest attempt, he and his crew realized that the ice had retreated far and they could pass in one fell swoop. Mr. Fuchs said that at the edges of civilization, the consequences of global warming are more pronounced.

And that leads to concrete problems for his exploits. Weather navigation becomes more and more important.

While the intensity of storms has been on the decline, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the frequency of hurricanes is not. Half of the 10 most active hurricane seasons happened over the past decade, with 16 to 19 storms per year.

That’s why climate researchers suspect that the energy stored in warming seas will lead to more extreme weather conditions.

It’s always the wind.

 

A version of this article first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: redaktion@tagesspiegel.de

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!