Amyr Klink – eyes on the horizon
Amyr Klink is a Brazilian waterman, famous for rowing single-handedly from Namibia to Brazil over 100 days, and for single-handedly sailing from the Antarctic to the Arctic over almost two years! He has been on many adventures and kindly took the time to share with us his fascinating stories and insights into life in general.
Hi Amyr, firstly, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. It’s a real treat.
Not a problem (laughing).
I wondered if you could start by telling us a little about your background? I understand you grew up in Brazil to a Lebanese father and a Swedish mother?
Yes, that’s correct. And then we lived for many years in a very small historical town (Paraty), close to the sea, which is a very very charming place. In this town I had my first contact with canoes, the local fishermen canoes. And I discovered that every different sport had a different design and style of building, so I fell in love with these canoes. And then many many many years later… I would….. I would never have imagined I would fall in love with boats, but it started with this.
And when you lived in Paraty, did you used to go out fishing on these boats? Is this where you gained all your experience initially?
I was not a big fan of football, which is not very normal in Brazil (laughing). So, I enjoyed very much going to distant beaches by canoe and sometimes spending some time in every place, and little by little I started to understand the different kinds of woods, the building techniques and things like this.
The litoral norte of Sao Paulo is so beautiful. It must have been a wonderful place to grow up?
Ah yes, you are right (laughing).
Did you also study marine related subjects in school or university?
Yes. I went to Sao Paulo, and I did economic studies and business administration. And French literature, which I was involved with. And I think the ability to speak French was very important because suddenly I started to noticed lots of crazy French boats that were going around the world would stop in Paraty.
And as a child were you always very adventurous, was it always in you blood?
Well, I was not adventurous in a conventional sense. I just enjoyed very much being outside and understanding how things work and suddenly I think I started to understand that this crazy sailing boat could take you very very far away, and I think that was my main first interest in travelling.
Oh right. And was your first big trip the one from Namibia to Salvador?
I made lots of small trips in canoes and small boats, which I enjoyed very much. Which made my family mad. So, when I got involved with the rowing crossing from Namibia to Brazil I decided not to tell anyone at the beginning. At the beginning I thought it was a stupid idea. Because I used to row. But then I was deeply involved. It was a fascinating challenge. I think that’s how it went.
And when you look back on that trip now, do you feel you were well prepared, or was it more of a wild adventure?
Well at the beginning I was not prepared at all. I just had a kind of deep knowledge of handling boats. But then I understood that I would have to learn lots of things. There was no GPS at the time so I needed to learn how to handle navigation. I was not looking for any record, I don’t know if you understand that. I was just fascinated with the idea of staying a long long time between two continents.
Oh right. And how long did that trip take?
It took one hundred days and six hours. And it was a very funny experience (laughing).
Wow, that’s amazing. And is there a reason you started from the Namibian side as opposed to going in the other direction, from Brazil?
Because I knew I had to follow the main currents. The problem is that the starting point is a very stormy area, and everyone was trying to convince me to start from Cape Town. But I preferred starting in that unfavorable weather, than in calm non-helping weather.
And when you are out in the ocean all on your own, what kind of things are you thinking about? Are you thinking about life, or philosophy or is it all technical?
No, the problem is hard to explain, but it was such a hard experience to start. It was very bureaucratic. It was a very hard learning process. The boat was caught by South African authorities. There were so many outside problems. So when I was finally in the middle of the two continents I was really very happy and the only thing I had to do was work and enjoy. I enjoyed very much (laughing).
And when you spend so much time alone do you ever start to feel kind of crazy?
Well, you know, in Brazil and Latin countries people are always worried about being be themselves. But I had a Swedish mother (laughing). You don’t have time to feel lonely when you are single-handling a boat when you are sailing in Antarctica or rowing in the Atlantic. It’s a very busy experience. Time becomes very short and it goes very quickly. So it’s not hard or complicated.
And do you find time to sleep every day too?
Oh, well I quickly understood that rowing is much easier because you row ten to twelve hours a day, and you can then sleep straight for eight hours. When I am sailing single handed, I cannot sleep more than fifty minutes, ever. So that was a kind of a privilege to have a night’s sleep.
Oh, is that because of the drift of the water and the size of the boat?
Yes, because the (row) boat just stops when you are sleeping. When you are sailing a big sailing boat single handed like the boat I have now, the boat is always sailing at full speed. So if there is any traffic or icebergs or wind changing, wind increasing and things like this, you must control it every time. But on a rowing boat it is hard work but it is very easy work.
One environmental question I had is about the Atlantic having changed a lot in recent times. That you used to see a huge amount of wildlife, like whales and birds and this kind of thing, but that in the last decade or so there has been a big decrease due to pollution. Do you have any thoughts or experience with that?
Well, at the time, we had not the culture that we have now, when we are sailing in Antarctica or in very wild places. The culture of trying to identify every type of animal, bird, fish, whale, seal, and so at the time I was a little bit ignorant. Of course, there was plenty of wildlife, but I was not so experienced with that, as I am now today. Of course there have been many changes. I was very concerned at the beginning but I had no experience. Today we have lots of experience.
And on a personal level, what is it inside you that keeps motivating you to take on new trips?
Well, people, friends and the neighbours, think I love to be exploring, but I just love to be in the natural environment. And today, we sail in a very different way than anybody else sails in Antarctica. Because I love to design the boats that I used to sail down there. We have very innovative and unusual sailing boats. And on these boats we do not use only high technology materials. I love to use local technology in the design of these boats, lots of, you know, very simple regional ideas from the fishermen I met when I was a child. So, our boat can go ashore. We can put the boat on the beach. A one-hundred foot sailing boat on the beach. Americans and French people they get crazy, “oh Jesus this is a disaster”. No, it is not a disaster, we are prepared for that. We love to carry two or three years self sufficiency on the boat. So I have a deep involvement on the designing and building of all solutions I use at sea. So that is a part of the process I enjoy very much.
Wow, that’s really interesting.
Sailing is very nice and easy. But that does not fascinate me. What fascinates me is all the hiring of people, training people to weld, designing a more high rig system, more simple big systems that you can handle with just one or two men, so you have a much longer range than all the stupid powerful boats that have no range in Antarctica. They are all praying for fuel. We are always very free there because we have at least two years of self sufficiency, energy, heat. We can go to places others will never reach.
Wow, great. Do you have your own construction yard in Paraty?
I do not want to be an entrepreneur, you know? But I had to start a kind of experimental boat, which in the end was very successful. And then finally we made boats for lots of people, travelers, adventures, commercial people. But my idea was not to make money, it was just to make better boats. And I think on that side we’ve been successful.
I have two companies based in Paraty. We run marinas there and we build floating systems that we have been developing in the past year. And I have an office in Sao Paulo where we only work on useless things (laughing), but in a very professional way. We try to put sense in them. I like having two feet. One in Paraty, in contact with nature. And one in Sao Paulo, thinking about crazy ideas. It suits me, so… (laughing).
That’s really cool. And in regard to your trip sailing from Antarctica to the Arctic, that took almost two years, is that correct?
Yes, it is, but that was not planned at all! The problem is that when I finished my wintering season in Antarctica I was not caught by ice, for the second time. So I had an extra amount of supplies and so I said I will never again in my life have such an opportunity to have twenty-two months of full autonomy, so that’s why I decided to sail north. But it was not hunting for records, it was just for the fun of it. Today it is much harder because you have lots of bureaucratic things in your life so it is hard to get rid of all this.
Oh right. You had expected to be frozen in the ice in the south?
When I went down to Antarctica my plan was to spend Winter. Because at the time on sailing boats I was very inexperienced, so I had no margin to make mistakes. But one year after the wintering, which was very nice, I had a strong winter with very hard ice. So that’s nice because you don’t have to worry about ice movement on the boat. So the boat becomes like a hut. Very comfortable. So with the remaining time I had I decided just to sail, and it was very very nice, because by then I had some experience.
That kind of trip sounds fantastic. Does it have a very profound effect on you? It must be a unique experience, that affects you in a certain way?
It’s not a fantastic experience when you see it from the inside. Because it is a very simple idea. I need to have three and half years of self sufficiency. That was complicated, technically hard to solve, but not a big problem, and the boat was very successful and simple and reliable. Suddenly I started to enjoy the simplicity and efficiency of boat designing and then I started to understand that almost all those engineers of the big engine makers, they are completely stupid. They cannot reach simple solutions. And I love technology, very simple and efficient technology so that became a kind of permanent. Being efficient. So, we have always been sailing in a very different way to how American and European boats do in Antarctica. We don’t use anchors. We don’t want to disturb the bottom. I love to be in a hurricane or a big storm. We use grinding techniques, instead of sailing techniques which are totally stupid. Using anchors and touching rocks… it’s better to be prepared. So the designing side of these trips is very fascinating to us. We are a very small group but we love thinking of different and simple solutions.
Okay, interesting! And then when you go back to land after such a long trip, is it hard to reignite all your relationships with your friends and family?
No, it’s a big pleasure. Today I have more than forty trips to Antarctica. I enjoy very much being there. I have friends there. I will die for them. But I also have friends at home. And I also do love big towns. But we do learn a lot when we come back. After every trip we have lots of ideas of technical solutions. Even philosophic solutions. So it’s not a shock, it is kind of a privilege learning from both universes.
And considering you’ve been on these big trips and adventures do you think people should always follow their dreams as opposed to falling into the rut of a regular life?
Well, sorry, I don’t like to use my experience to inspire other people. I am always invited to lecture about these things but I don’t like to do it. I like to show that we can have a more simple life. Complicated things are not so complicated if you dedicate to solving problems. But I am not a specialist on inspiring.
And on your various trips do you ever run into any very serious challenges?
Yes, every time when we sail in high latitudes. I’ve been twice around Antarctica. But the most radical problems we’ve had are always concerned with bureaucratic problems in Brazil. Technical problems with suppliers. Bad designing ideas we had. So it’s a fascinating experience. But once you are there, if you have done a reasonable job before, it is nice. I must admit I love being… you know during the last ten years we have observed the average storm winds have increased from sixty to seventy knots to today it is common to have storms of more than one hundred to one hundred and ten knots. But we love these. And when you have reliable equipment it’s a very fascinating thing.
Cool! And being a Brazilian person yourself, do you have any opinions on the country, its people, its growth?
Well, the economy, we will not depend on the Government. I do not want any kind of sponsorship. I don’t want to be related to any big companies. I work with the cities, but our own engineering is very very good. We can do much better than them. So, we are always concerned with social and economical issues, and it is a very hard country to understand, very powerful, but very inefficient. We have very talented people that are completely unprepared. We have disastrous education and politics. We have a very hot economy with a very poor…. in the end we have a net profit that is very small. We don’t know anything about building towns. So, it’s a fascinating country that I do really love, but many things must change. I travel a lot, almost six months a year. I am travelling to very remote places. I think I have a very clear idea of what’s going on. We have a cultural system. But coming to a better perspective, at the same time, you see the countries like some of our neighbours, like Argentina and Venezuela. And I don’t want to have any kind of… I love Argentina, I love Venezuela, but they are following the wrong paths. Well, I am not a specialist on managing economies, but these countries, I know a lot about how to start a company, hiring people, starting new technologies, educating people. We have lots of very competent professionals. We prepared ourselves. Schools are not prepared. Brazilians, they do not care about technical education. So, it’s a fascinating place to work. We have this problem of violence. But I think we may find a solution, I hope. I like what we do. We suffer a lot. We train people. And once they are certified in technical procedures like welding, machining, we lose them, and then after five years they come back, but they come back as owners of their own small companies, and then all the process starts again. So we can increase our profits and success. It’s a hard process. It takes a huge amount of money. If you take an American or a French or an English captain of a ship, he has no idea about training people, bureaucratic problems. He just thinks of his boat. But here we must think of all kinds of social, economic, bureaucratic things. So that makes it a great pleasure to be at sea (laughing).
And you had mentioned that you love to be in natural surroundings and at one with nature, I wondered if you also have a fascination with Space and astronomy, as the ideas relate somewhat?
In fact, I am terribly interested in this subject. But this is a subject that depends on national strategy which involvs technology in all senses, preparation, a kind of a national effort, an economical effort, so I love to compare the American politics on this subject with the Russian politics which is completely different. Very fascinating. New intelligence or knowledge, which I admire very much, of course. But, (laughing), in our everyday work we are much more concerned with more structural problems.
And when you look back on all your travels are there any lessons of life you have learned or any words of wisdom you could share with us?
Oh, I don’t think I am a visionary in this sense. Even I don’t have any lessons to share. But, we love finding knowledge in simple things, so I think we are still a little bit surprised by the amount of technology we have developed in the last decade. But, I think we will never stop being human beings. I will keep my farm. I will never need a road to come to my beach and farm in Paraty. I don’t want to have any electricity there. And at the same time I did manage to learn how to make money by living a very simple live. So, we have lots of social challenges and economical challenges which I am very interested in. I am a fan of simple solutions. I know they are much harder to find and to build.
One final question, what is the next big trip you have planned or are you working on anything exciting at the moment?
We are working right now on a rescue boat that would follow the regulations of the Antarctic. The private and touristic boats working in the Antarctic, they should have their own rescue system. They should have managed to do it there. I was fascinated by the idea. So, we went to Sweden to be in the touch with the best boatyard there. But then we realised they would not be able to do it because the labour man hours is very expensive. So we decided to try it, and I think we are successful. We are running a small operation in Antarctica, a private operation in Antarctica. We love to build geodesic boats. That’s in Sao Paulo, just for fun, and then we sell them and it is very profitable and funny. I can reassemble the geodesic boats. And we do it very professionally. And the aluminium, I can assemble them by myself. I don’t need any help from anyone. So, we are always working on some kind of technical challenge (laughing). Mainly for fun. I don’t want to be a big entrepreneur, or a big businessman.
Great! And if you ever find yourself sailing to Ireland, I would love to buy you a drink some time!
(Laughing). I would love! I would love to understand the lock system and technology they have, because no one speaks about this, but I think, “wow, I am very interested about this”. The idea of getting rid of cars. I think the car is the most stupid machine. But economic. Because you make complicated things at low cost. They are stupid. They spoil too much energy. I am now fighting the electrical cars because I think the model is completely stupid. They will never work because we are keeping the same movement / mobility model when we should change it. We don’t need an electrical car of one and a half tonnes, we need an electrical car of three hundred kilos. The movements on channels and locks I love! And in Ireland you have lots of interesting solutions. In Brazil we will never have any kind of such a solution because we have so much regulations, environmental regulations which are completely stupid, so we will never be able to build locks and channels. But it’s an interesting subject.
Brilliant, thanks so much for the interview Amyr.
Okay, thank you. And if you come to Paraty you are welcome to visit us.