A real man of the world

Dos Equis has it all wrong.

The beer's advertising campaign cast actor Jonathan Goldsmith as the "Most Interesting Man in the World," but if an actual, real-life Casanova were to be named, one who breathes elusive mystique, sporting prowess and, of course, a full face of impassable grizzle, the distinction would belong to renowned South African explorer Mike Horn.

In fact, it's hard to distinguish Horn's actual résumé from the character in the mythical TV spots.

His beard alone really has experienced more than a lesser man's body.

He once walked out the front door of a camp on the equator, and 18 months later, after the circumvolution of the globe at latitude zero on foot, bicycle, canoe and sail, he entered through the back door.

He speaks fluent Afrikaans, English, Spanish, German, French, Russian and Dutch … in a mellifluous Cape Town accent.

When he was 28, he had a huge party to give away his house, his car and all of his belongings before up and moving to a foreign country -- sight unseen -- on a standby ticket.

His blood smells like cologne.

He walked across Siberia for one and a half years. Alone.

His hands feel like rich, brown suede.

A tow truck once hauled away his illegally parked U-Haul from a Dunkin Donuts. He saw it being yanked from the car park and tore after it on foot. He caught up, scaled the truck's cab, threw open the door and -- amid an extempore scuffle -- accidentally broke the driver's arm. An ambulance and cruisers arrived. Cops seized Horn immediately and threw him against the wall. After only a few minutes of questioning, the sheriff felt inclined to release Horn (and his vehicle) ungrudgingly and citation-free. The squad then provided a police escort through the city to Horn's awaiting plane for an on-time departure.

People hang on his every word, even the prepositions.

His locker room pep talk lifted India's cricket team to the 2011 ICC World Cup trophy.

He spent three months in the North Pole's complete darkness.

His greatest accomplishment is that he's still alive.

He doesn't want to incarcerate modern-day pirates in the Philippines; he wants to employ them as his boat's crack security team.

He's won trophies for his game face alone.

He does not have a sneaker named after him. He has his name on a custom Italian PAM307 Luminor 1950 submersible depth Panerai watch. ($17,600 retail.)

He does not have an official sports drink endorsement. He has a lifetime indenture of G.H. Mumm French champagne.

His official vehicle isn't a luxury sedan or the pedestrian Range Rover; it's the completely sustainable and wholly recyclable, solar-paneled, Mercedes-Benz, 35-meter, German-engineered, two master sailboat -- the largest ever built for polar expedition.

As if that's not enough, the husband and dedicated father's personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.

Meeting the man

On a gorgeous afternoon in May, I had the privilege of meeting Mike Horn at a media event at the Marina del Rey Yacht Club, a short 4 miles south of the Santa Monica Pier. I was invited aboard Pangaea with some 10 Los Angeles journalists and the commodore of the Del Rey Yacht Club for an exclusive interview session, a tour of the vessel's state-of-the-art facilities and a sail up the California coast.

The Panerai-sponsored media event sought to celebrate Horn's current endeavor -- the Pangaea Young Explorers Program -- which began in 2008. The four-year Pangaea expedition seeks to reconnoiter the seven continents and their various landscapes (desert, ocean, mountain, polar regions, etc.) without using any man-made power devices in order to explore, learn, and act on the preservation and appreciation of the natural world.

After two decades of exploring the planet on his own, Horn became deeply and personally committed to sharing his experience with the next generation, whom he refers to as "the world's most powerful energy source."

The basic concept of the Pangaea Young Explorers Program was to be able to give kids (ages 15 to 20) all over the world the opportunity to join his global expedition. "I needed kids from all the continents, and I wanted to pay for them to come. They don't pay a cent," Horn explained proudly as we sat barefoot around the boat's conference table. "Everything from their long underwear to their sunglasses to their plane tickets is all taken care of."

Participation in the Pangaea project is completely free of charge to the selected young explorers, funded by the full support of sponsors Officine Panerai and Mercedes-Benz.

"When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was go on Jacques Cousteau's boat. That was the only program I was allowed to watch, and that's all I wanted to do. I wrote many letters just to be able to go on that boat. I had to be on that boat," Horn said with childlike excitement. "Today, I want to give every kid who wants to be on that boat the opportunity. We are an open door."

In preparation for each stage of the Pangaea expedition (contracted to continue through July of next year), Horn and his staff in their Switzerland headquarters pore over hundreds of applications to select 16 young explorers who best meet the criteria to serve as ambassadors of the Mike Horn mission. The class of 16 international young adults is flown to the Mike Horn Expedition Center in Chateau-d'Oex for a rigorous two-week selection camp. After long days of team-building activities, and thorough technology, photography, first-aid, survival and fitness testing, the Mike Horn team selects eight to 10 companions who are best fit to join him aboard Pangaea for the next adventure.

Eight young explorer expeditions are already in the books, including voyages to the glacial continent of Antarctica, the fjords of New Zealand, Malaysia, India, Mongolia, the Himalayas, Siberia and the North Pole.

Once at sea, the young explorers work with Horn and local educational institutions throughout the expedition to investigate endemic environmental issues, engage in global clean-up projects and discover natural beauty, governed always by Horn's philosophy: more respect for the environment, and a sustainable future for our planet.

Interested candidates should visit the Young Explorers section of the Pangaea website at www.mikehorn.com to apply.

Mary Buckheit is a freelance writer based in San Diego. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.