Sven Yrvind is a Swedish boat builder and sailor. He sails across oceans in tiny boats that he has built himself. He is 75 years old.
I was delighted that he agreed to chat with me to share his tales and wisdom.
Alastair: Your website declares that you’re celebrating your 50th anniversary as a small-boat sailor by doing a non-stop circumnavigation of the world, south of the Capes (around Antarctica, essentially), in a ten foot boat. How’s the project progressing?
Sven: I’m getting older now, so I am slower. When I am young I worked 8am to 10pm on my projects. These days I am slowing down. But that’s OK: I am enjoying building the boat. It’s interesting. I’m more knowledgable now, more patient as well.
The mind wanders. I try new things [design details for the boat]. They often don’t succeed. I try again, I try something else. I’ll succeed in the end.
Alastair: I need to learn to slow down. To savour things more.
Sven: [laughing] That is because you are young!
Alastair: The boat you propose to sail round Antarctica in is smaller than my shed! Please can you tell us a bit more about the plan?
Sven: It will be difficult. It will take me between 600 and 800 days. I will not touch land in that time, nor get a resupply from anywhere. I enjoy sailing, I enjoy life, so I’ll be OK. It’s about 30,000 miles, at a speed of 2 knots. I will carry 400kg of food on the boat, giving me 1500 calories per day.
Alastair: But you’ll supplement that with fish you catch?
Sven: I prefer reading to fishing, so probably not. I will carry 100kg of books. I’ll have lots of mathematics books, also books in French and German: books that will take me longer to read.
Alastair: It’s a crazy plan, even without considering the size of the boat! Why do you like sailing in such small boats?
Sven: I don’t like people making big things. Boats, everything, becomes bigger and bigger. It uses up our precious resources. I’m an idealist. Also, it’s all that I can afford! A bigger boat does not make you happy.
Alastair: There’s a fabulous photo of you and your tiny boat back in 1962. I love that photo. You’ve got long hair. You’ve got the eyes of a rebel, filled with adventure. But there are loads of photos of young people burning to go take on the world. What has kept you being adventurous as you aged when most people, at some point, lose that fire?
Sven: I’m not really adventurous. My voyages are a practical solution to my life’s problems. I am very dyslexic. Teachers used to beat me. I did terribly at school. I was strong, but I couldn’t really advance in life. Setting out to sea in a small, cheap boat – my house – was the answer. I had no rent. I could see the world. I could find knowledge. I was curious.
Now I live on a small pension. I’ll do this journey, maybe sell a few books, and who knows what the next journey will be.
Alastair: Tell us about sailing round Cape Horn.
Sven: In 1980, I sailed from East to West around Cape Horn. That’s the “hard way” to do it. It was winter, my boat was aluminium, it had no heating. I was cold. This journey was tough. It was dark most of the time, so navigating with only a sextant was very difficult.
Alastair: Why did you attempt this voyage?
Sven: It was tough. I had to concentrate just one hour at a time. Just to survive. To keep going. I thought “don’t look sideways, don’t look backwards”, just keep going. I wanted to show people what small boats can do.
You know, Brussels have now banned small sailing boats from crossing oceans. It’s ridiculous. When I complete my voyage [round Antarctica], I’m going to write to Brussels. Make them look ridiculous. I’ll enjoy that!
Alastair: Brilliant! How do you feel when you are alone at sea?
Sven: I like it. I read a lot. Only captive animals are bored. These days people are over-stimulated. They need drugs, entertainment. Animals never get bored. You see a bird on the rocks. They just sit, enjoy life.
I’ll have no entertainment except my books. No radio. I’m trying to get more like the mood of an animal. It’s simple out there. It feels nice. Building the boat is the same.
The years pass so quickly, and then suddenly, one day the project is done. I don’t put time pressures on myself. I just do it and so I can enjoy each stage of it.
You must not hurry a journey. Don’t hurry if you want to do a job well or get the best possibilities.
Alastair: How do you keep motivated, keep striving to do difficult things?
Sven: I take care of my body. I exercise twice a week, running for 90 minutes. I only eat twice a day so that I don’t get fat. If you exercise your body you also look after your mind.
The “Comfort Zone” is the problem in life. Imagine you wake on a rainy morning. The rain bangs on your windows. It’s easier to stay in your nice bed than go for a walk in the rain. But in the evening you think “what a boring day.”
If you do it, if you get out of bed and walk in the rain then you will look back on the day and think “what a wonderful day.”
Comfort really is a bad thing. We are striving for comfort all the time. But it kills you.
Alastair: Are there any other more elderly adventurers you admire?
Alastair: If you could go back and offer the young you some advice before your first adventure, what would you say?
Sven: [laughing] Don’t trust the grown ups! You need courage. You have to be a rebel.
Alastair: That’s a brilliant answer. Thank you so much for talking to me. Good luck with your next voyage.
Sven: Good luck to you, and don’t give up easily!
My new book, Grand Adventures, is out now.
It’s designed to help you dream big, plan quick, then go explore.
The book contains interviews and expertise from around 100 adventurers, plus masses of great photos to get you excited.
I would be extremely grateful if you bought a copy here today!
Thank you so much!