Mike Horn has circumnavigated the world over the equator, visited both the Arctic and Antarctic Poles on his own, and traversed from the North to South Pole on his 110-foot research and broadcast vessel, Pangaea. His life’s work is adventure and exploration, and his company also helps organise expeditions for people who wish to discover and understand the natural world around us.

The gentleman has been a friend of Panerai for many years now, and in fact helped Panerai develop the watch that followed him on his Pole2Pole expedition, the PAM00719 Luminor Submersible 1950 3 Days GMT “Pole2Pole”. This year, he’s worked with the brand on a new timepiece, the Submersible Mike Horn Edition PAM00985, a 19-piece limited edition which comes with a side of Arctic expedition. He tells Revolution about the challenges of developing the PAM00719, some ideas about the planned Arctic expedition, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and why we all need to get back to nature.

South African-born, Swiss adventurer and explorer Mike Horn (Image: Panerai)
South African-born, Swiss adventurer and explorer Mike Horn (Image: Panerai)
You crossed the Antarctic continent in just under two months. What was that like?

The first thing that matters is time. Your watch shows you 24 hours in a day. But in that time, I have 5 hours to sleep, 5 hours to consume 12,000 calories, which is roughly what you eat in a week. The rest of the time I need to cover distance. So I had to reconfigure my biological clock. Instead of a 24-hour day, I made it 30 hours. So instead of walking for 14 hours after 10 hours of eating and sleeping, I walk for 20 hours and reduce the number of rest stops I make.

There are other things. Because it’s extremely cold, your toes start freezing, and every day you have to release the blood back into circulation. Otherwise you’re going to have to amputate them. So you take a needle and poke it through your toenails to let the blood flow. You have to do that every day.

Now in cold conditions what happens is your blood thickens. So you can take an aspirin which is a blood thinner. But your veins don’t dilate, it’s too cold. So you have to take a vasodilator, like Cialis or Viagra so blood flows to the extremities. It’s necessary for survival.

The PAM00719 is a watch with input from Mike Horn so that he could use it to survive the Antarctic.
The PAM00719 is a watch with input from Mike Horn so that he could use it to survive the Antarctic.
I know you had input on the actual design of the watch which you in fact wore on your expedition. Tell us what you had to get Panerai to incorporate into the watch, on which the PAM00719 is based.

So the watch I wore specifically had to be made out of a single block of metal. That’s because the material goes through compression in extreme cold, and you have to make sure the entire watch compresses at the same level. Otherwise you could break the watch. We couldn’t use normal watchmaking oils, because they would freeze. It had to be an extremely accurate timekeeper but also act as a compass for me. Compasses don’t work at the poles, so you use your watch to tell the direction.

What’s it like, being under these extreme conditions constantly?

You know, in the summer, it’s almost 24 hours of daylight. The wind is non-stop and the temperature is -40℃. The wind is loud. We don’t think of it this way, but the poles are like the air conditioners of the entire world. And they’re starting to break down. And if we don’t do something about it, they’ll stop working. If you think the weather is hot now, what happens when our air conditioners stop working?

Mike Horn crossed the South Pole under his own power, with the aid of skis, paraglides and kite-surfs
Mike Horn crossed the South Pole under his own power, with the aid of skis, paraglides and kite-surfs
You’ve spoken about how seriously we need to be paying attention to Mankind’s impact on the world. Why do you think we are so far from action?

It’s really about what people see and experience, and because most of us live in cities, the effect of climate change and global warming is very far from us. For me, it’s different. For example, whales used to go down to Antarctic quite a lot in the summer to eat plankton and have their calves. With global warming, the ocean is absorbed more carbon, which gets absorbed by the surface plankton, which releases oxygen.

But the plankton cannot absorb any more additional carbon. So they sink deeper into the ocean. And the whales don’t have enough to eat anymore. So they aren’t migrating to Antarctica as they used to in the past. When I look at signs of global warming, it’s not just something I speak about. It’s something that I see.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than the state of Texas, and it's just one of five garbage patches in the oceans
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is larger than the state of Texas, and it's just one of five garbage patches in the oceans
I know you’ve seen the Great Pacific Garbage Patch up close. Can you tell us what it’s like to be in the water there.

You’re surrounded by plastic, as far as you can possibly see. And it all concentrates there. It all congeals and you can pick it up, it’s like slush or jelly. Birds and fish, they think it’s squid or jellyfish and they eat it. The thing is, plastics don’t break down. It lasts for 200 years. So one fish eats the plastic, a small piece of polystyrene, and eventually it dies. But that plastic will still stay in the water and another fish eats it. And another. This tiny piece of polystyrene can poison 100 fish. And it’s not just on the surface. It goes down 6, 7 metres deep.

The Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition PAM00985 is made from recycled "Eco-Titanium" with a high quality strap made from recycled PET plastic.
The Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition PAM00985 is made from recycled "Eco-Titanium" with a high quality strap made from recycled PET plastic.
The new limited edition watch with Panerai is a great example of a sustainable luxury product and it comes with a unique experience — a journey to the Arctic. Tell us more.

I’ve been talking to Panerai about sustainability for many years, and this strap is made from three PET bottles. With the case, it takes energy and resources to create new titanium, and recycled titanium is of the same quality and value and requires less energy to produce. [Note: Mike Horn has previously spoken of how his all-aluminium ship, Pangaea, will be recycled as well.]

But I’ve been thinking about the expedition. It will be a mix of environmental awareness and action. One possible programme is to help capture whale DNA through the spray that they expel. It will enable us to follow their movements in the oceans, know their migration routes.