Monaco's "Day of Exploration" March 21, 2024 hosted by the Monaco Yacht Club and the Explorers Club of New York. (Photo: Monaco Yacht Club)

As a writer and foreign correspondent who for over 40 years has trekked across much of Afghanistan, filmed Zambia’s Kafue Wetlands or reported from Haiti’s forest-depleted hillside villages, one occasionally bumps into other likeminded adventurers: a fellow journalist, for example, along some lone mountain trail in the Hindu Kush, a marine biologist diving off Sudan’s derelict Red Sea port of Suakin, or an agriculturalist studying the best ways to green the Sahara Desert in northern Chad. You grab the chance of a chat to exchange observations, perhaps over a cup of tea or while beholding yet another spectacular mountain or semi-arid landscape, and then each proceeds on their own way.

Monaco’s recent “Day of Exploration” (March 21, 2024), where the Monaco Yacht Club (MYC) and the Explorers Club of New York announced a partnership to promote discovery, was a speed-dating version of such remote encounters, but this time amongst a gathering of some 150 fellow explorers. Each in his or her own way, these exceptional individuals all opened doors to an exciting slew of new ideas, expeditions and ventures. They encompass long-time personal quests ranging from maritime research and ocean discovery to aeronautical challenges, but all combined with a powerful sense of curiosity combined with a desire to inform and perhaps make the world a better place. It was hard not to be inspired.

The Principality of Monaco in the South of France overlooking the Mediterreanean and which serves as “Voice of the Ocean.” (Photo: Oceanographic Institute of Monaco)

As a newly appointed Fellow of the Explorers Club, I was attending with Tom Woods, a Paris-based American filmmaker, with whom I have undertaken various projects over the years for American Public Television and other broadcasters in places like Afghanistan, Mozambique and Liberia. In line with the MYC’s and Explorers Club’s desire to link exploration with education and youth, we had just launched with other partners a three-year, multi-media WIKI’s Centennial Expedition with WIKI, a unique 103-year-old wooden sailing ketch, serving as its icon for “sailing with a purpose.” The three-year project, which incorporates a strong youth component, will circumnavigate the Mediterranean linked to written, cinematic, photographic and cartoon story-telling, and seeks to highlight how this exceptional cradle of civilization has changed over a hundred years, but to also pose the much harder question: what about the next 100?

WIKI, a 103-year-old wooden ketch built in Kiel, Germany, in 1920 and icon of the 2024 WIKI Centennial Expedition to help raise awareness of how the Mediterranean has changed over a century, and what we can do to help protect this unique cultural and environmental heritage.
This article is part of the multi-media, multi-partner WIKI’s Centennial Expedition on the Mediterranean, coastal and island communities, and the world’s oceans. Featuring significant youth and educational components combined with credible information outreach, this Project focuses on threats but also innovative solutions ranging from climate change and conservation to sustainable tourism, innovative technologies, science and the preservation of cultural heritage with seed funding provided by Sacha and Mathilde Lichine of the Chateau d’Esclans. For more information plus how to support this not-for-profit initiative, please see: www.helpsavethemed.org All commissioned content may be used for free in the public interest by media, international agencies and NGOs as well as partner organizations as long as appropriately cited. (See, for example, Global Insights article on Trieste as the City of Science)

Many of those present at the Monaco event shared the same concerns. But what I found so galvanizing was the exchange of ideas, and the exceptional passion that emerged from so many of those attending.    

Dr Rachel Graham of MarAlliance for whom saving sharks is imperative. (Photo: Pew Charitable Trusts)

Rachel Graham, for example, a British maritime conservation scientist, who, operating out of Belize and the Caribbean, has launched herself on a global quest for the conservation of marginalized animals such as sharks, sea turtles and rays. “Sharks are in huge trouble,” she explained. “We have seen a decline of 37 percent of shark species.” A 2022 Oceana Ocean Hero, Graham is founder of MarAlliance, an international NGO, and comes across as utterly dedicated. A pragmatist, however, she also ensures that whatever she does is guided by science and data gathering. “The lesson for all of us,” Graham maintains, “is that conservation is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.”

Tommy “Mbogo” Allen: “We need to better understand the ocean.” (Photo: 5OGS)

Another was American explorer Tommy “Mbogo” Allen, Director of Global Operations Five Oceans Global Solutions (5OGS). A Fellow of the Explorers Club, Mbogo, as he prefers to be called, speaks half a dozen African languages and dialects having lived much of his life in Africa but also the Middle East and Central Asia. With a wealth of intriguing stories under his belt, he spends much of his time on expeditions as well as humanitarian and environmental undertakings both on land and sea. Dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the sea through his Five Oceans initiative, he is now focusing on maritime exploration. “Only five percent of the oceans have been explored, so there is a lot that needs to be discovered,” Mbogo explained. “We’re looking at a huge and virtually untapped resource of scientific and commercial potential. But for this to happen, we need to better understand the ocean.”

Then there was James Prosek, an American artist, author and naturalist, who uses his paintings, drawings and sculptures to make people more aware. Talking with James, I immediately felt an affinity given that my father had also been a painter, conservationist and inveterate traveller. Prosek, who lives in Connecticut, but travels broadly, seeks to combine his fascination for history of art and natural sciences with environmental concerns. “I try to use my art to express the loss of cultural and biological diversity,” he explained during a break in the warm early spring sunshine while overlooking the port of Monte Carlo. I immediately decided that our own Mediterranean media project, which seeks to work with a coalition of partners and to engage youth as a means of making the new generation more aware of our planet, should include artists, not unlike those 19th and early 20th century newspapers and magazines who dispatched artists to illustrate the work of their journalists.  

Florida Composition Number Four donated by the artist to the Norton Museum of Art for a fund-raising event. (Created by James Prosek)

There were numerous others whose projects and experiences made them stand out, such as Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist, Nina Jensen, CEO of REV Ocean, the world’s most cutting edge expedition vessel, Victor Vescovo, ocean explorer and “Father” of the Five Deeps expedition, and Kathy Sullivan, a former astronaut and now an earth scientist. Based outside Geneva, Switzerland, however, I immediately found myself drawn to two particular explorers who live and work not far from my own home.

For Swiss psychiatrist and environmentalist Bertrand Piccard and South African-born Swiss adventurer and writer Mike Horn, the need to test one’s limits and to penetrate the beyond, whether physically or metaphorically, might seem like old hat. Yet, as exemplified by what both the Explorers Club and the MYC seek to represent as part of the “spirit of adventure,” each of these two men retains a passion for exploration which they avidly seek to convey to a younger generation in search of role models and purpose.

Richard Wiese, President Emeritus of the Explorers Club (L), Bertrand Piccard (Centre L), Prince Albert II of Monaco (Centre R) and Mike Horn (R). (Photo: Monaco Yacht Club)

“It is not just a matter of exploring to satisfy one’s personal curiosity but also to place oneself at the service of humanity if we are to save our planet,” said Piccard, who, at 66, is perhaps best known for completing the first non-stop balloon flight around the globe alongside fellow balloonist Brian Jones in Breitling Orbiter 3 in March 1999. Together with Swiss entrepreneur and pilot Andre Borschberg, he completed in 2016 the first round-the-world solar-powered flight aboard the Solar Impulse. Piccard’s grandfather Auguste Piccard was a balloonist and undersea explorer, and his father Jacques Piccard was an undersea explorer.

“It is up to the younger generation to become aware of what is happening to our world (with climate change and environmental pollution) and to take the necessary action. This is where exploration can help make a difference,” said Piccard, who, together with Borschberg, co-founded the Solar Impulse Foundation and is preparing a new venture, notably to circumnavigate the world in a hydrogen-powered airplane in 2027.

Bertrand Piccard’s next adventure: to circumnaviage the Earth in 2027 with a hydrogen-powered aircraft. (Photo: Solar Impulse Foundation)

Mike Horn, who, now 57, first made a name for himself by completing a one-year, 6-month solo journey around the equator without motorised transport in 2001. He expresses similar concerns about the need to inspire young people. “I am not afraid to die,” he explained. “What I am afraid of, however, is to die without living…By pushing myself to the extreme, that’s when I feel alive.”

An avid mountain climber, sailor, canoist, cyclist, trekker and a host of other pursuits, Horn lost his wife and life companion, Cathy, who helped organize all his adventures, to cancer in 2015. For him, it was Cathy who inspired him to continue living and exploring. “You can live for me,” she told before she died. “That’s why I continue with what I am doing,” said Mike, now supported by his two ‘incredible’ daughters, Jessica and Annika who both work for him.

Horn, who is also engaged in motivational coaching for sports people, has since circumnavigated the world no fewer than 21 times. In 2003, he undertook a 27-month-long solo circumnavigation (over 20,000 km) of the Arctic Circle. Then in 2006, along with fellow explorer, the Norwegian Børge Ousland, they became the first men to travel without a dog or motorized transport to the North Pole during winter and in permanent darkness.

Explorer Mike Horn. (Photo: Mike Horn Collection)

At that time, Horn notes, the ice was two and a half metres thick. Fourteen years later, when he embarked, once again with Ousland, on a similar journey in 2019, it was barely eight centimetres thick because of global warming. It was so thin that that he and Ousland had to terminate the trip after 87 days and not as originally planned. “The ice was simply too thin to walk on,” Horn said. “After three months on the ice, we were simply too weak, starving and in the process of dying.”

Today, while Horn’s passion for exploration remains a key factor in his life, he pursues it differently, notably through writing and producing inspirational videos on his personal YouTube channel, Mike Horn, with over 821,000 subscribers. “It’s important to make young people feel that they are part of the world and that they can have a role to play to make it a better place, not only environmentally, but also when dealing with events such as the war in Ukraine,” he explained.  

Monaco’s “Day of Exploration” was part of MYC’s Ocean Week, which not only aims to encourage greater environmental awareness, but to encourage and develop sustainable yachting. It is organized annually by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation in partnership with the Monaco Government, the Monaco Oceanographic Institute and Monaco Scientific Centre.

Prince Albert II, as with his great grandfather, known as the “Prince Explorer,” grandfather and father, takes a keen interest in exploration, protecting the environment and promoting greater public awareness of the Mediterranean and the world’s oceans. For him, Monaco’s new partnership with the Explorers Club will enable all concerned to “work together to promote research innovation and education.” The Prince added: “To conclude with the words of the great philosopher Marshall McCluhan, ‘there are no passengers on the Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.’ “

For Explorers Club President Richard Garriott, another keen space and oceans pioneer, the New York-based institution has long shared a rich history with Monaco. Prince Albert II is a member of its Board of Directors. “Several generations of the Grimaldi family have been members of the Club and flown its flag in the field during expeditions and won its highest distinctions. Our members may have walked on the moon and the summit of Mount Everest, but our roots are firmly anchored in the ocean,” Garriott said. 

Given the participation of such diverse explorers, whether astronauts, environmentalists, anthropologists, photographers, writers, educators and artists, it was clear that the Mediterranean itself is not the only concern. “It is important to have (the explorers) here as we need to know more about the planet and its oceans and appreciate just how beautiful it is. If we want to protect something, having an indepth knowledge of it is fundamental,” maintained YCM General Secretary Bernard d’Alessandri.

Global Insights editor Edward Girardet is a foreign correspondent and author focusing on conflict, humanitarian crises, environment and development worldwide. He is currently working with filmmaker Tom Woods on developing a three-year multi-media project on the Mediterranean. (See www.HelpSaveTheMed.org) Girardet is well-known for his dedicated coverage of Afghanistan since just prior to the Soviet war in 1979. His 2011 book “Killing the Cranes – A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan” is considered a ‘classic’ (New York Review of Books) and one of the most informed on this country’s apparently never-ending humanitarian and economic turmoil since civil war first broke out in the summer of 1978. Other books include: “Afghanistan: The Soviet War”; “The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan”. (4 fully-revised editions) and “Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond.” Girardet is wrapping up a new book, The American Club, about the Hippie Trail and Peshawar in the Soviet war years as the Casablanca of the 1980s.

Writer Edward Girardet reporting clandestinely during
the Soviet war in northern Afghanistan in 1982.
(Photo: Edward Girardet archives)
Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan
The fourth, fully-revised edition of The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan published by Crosslines Essential Media, a partner of Global Geneva Group. Although this current edition was pubished in 2014 much of it is still relevant. You can procure an e-edition through this LINK on Amazon. We still have a few hard copies left, too. If you would like a copy, please order with: editor@global-geneva.com Cost: 50.00 CHF/USD including p&p. DHL, FEDEX etc. please add.

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