Round the world in an open boat

Swedes stop in Juneau on global tour

Posted: Friday, August 04, 2000

In a boat the size of a family car, two Swedes motored away from Juneau early this morning to continue their around-the-world voyage.

Already Roy Karlsen and Ove Herlogson claim to have set two world records, as the smallest boat to cross the North Atlantic and the smallest boat to go through the Panama Canal.

Protected only by a canvas shell, the modern-day Vikings have traveled 13,800 miles since they left their home in Lysekil, a town of about 8,000 people on the west coast of Sweden.

``It says on my passport `He's normal,''' joked Karlsen, who readily admits many people thought he was crazy to try to circumnavigate the globe in an 18-foot open boat with only one motor.

``People in Sweden said `Well, goodbye and good luck,' then turned around and said `Well, they're never going to make it,''' said Ann Chi Erikes, Karlsen's fiance.

But Karlsen was sure it could be done. He's been running open boats most of his life, regularly commuting two and a half hours from Sweden to Denmark in a 16-foot skiff ``because the food and the booze and everything was cheaper.'' While crossing through a summer storm in 1990 he thought, ``If I can make it this far in a boat like this, I can make it around the world.''

A dream was born. Over the next 10 years Karlsen test drove 22 different kinds of boats, drummed up sponsors and convinced an acquaintance, Ove Herlogson, to come along to document the trip.

The boat Karlsen chose is an Uttern with a 50-horsepower four-stroke Mercury motor. Barely more than a skiff, the boat is double hulled, with foam inside, so if it flips it will right itself, Herlogson said. They navigate with a global positioning system, radar and digital charts, though they often have to pull out road maps to find the next small town where gas is available.

``That's the tricky part, to find legs. I don't want to do night rides, at least not up here, because of all the things in the water,'' Karlsen said. ``We need gas all the time so we need places.''

The longest leg of the journey so far was from Greenland to Canada. They went 490 nautical miles in 58 hours without stopping. The boat was carrying all the fuel it could hold, 190 gallons.

``We didn't know if we were going to make it when we left,'' said Karlsen.

They barely did, arriving with about a quart of fuel left.

That was only one of their adventures. They've been stuck in the mud in Panama, had to sleep in their float jackets to keep warm in the Greenland summer and were met with machine guns in Cuba because their boat lacks a registration number.

``In Nicaragua we were threatened with life. They killed a dog before my eyes and said, `You can be next,''' said Herlogson. ``We turned the key and left.''

In other places people have been waiting on the docks to welcome them or invited them home for carefully prepared Swedish meatballs and herring.

``Sometimes they come down with families and we picnic with them, tell stories,'' Herlogson said.

The homemade meals are a welcome change from their daily diet of energy bars, water, fruit and chocolate. Initially they had a small kitchen set up to make themselves meals, but they were too busy running the boat to use it, so they gave it away in Honduras.

Coastal towns around the world are all very different, but tied by their dependence on the sea, Herlogson said. He's begun to worry about how long the oceans can survive with all the trash he's seen drifting by as he keeps watch for logs and icebergs.

``When we go around we see that the world is so fragile. If some little thing happens the fish can disappear. Thousands and thousands of people lose their livelihood,'' Herlogson said. ``These small communities, they are depending on one thing and if it disappears -- We've seen abandoned towns in Greenland.''

The adventurers have some long stretches to come. After two nights in Juneau, they headed for Elfin Cove today, more than 80 nautical miles away. Then they will work their way up the Gulf of Alaska coast to Yakutat and Cordova.

In Homer they'll stop to get the engine serviced one last time before following the Aleutian Islands out into the Pacific and across to Russia. For the next 10 months they'll work their way past Japan, China, India, through the Suez Canal and back home to Sweden.

When the weather is bad they stay in port and wait it out. The worst they've been caught in were 50-foot waves as they crossed the North Sea.

``If the fishermen and fishing boats aren't going out, we can't go out,'' Herlogson said. ``The weather is powerful and you need respect for it. Otherwise you die.''

The two-year trip is costing $250,000 ``and a lot of time and sacrifice,'' said Herlogson. He lost his girlfriend because of the trip.

``She said, `You can choose between me and the project.'''

On the other hand, Karlsen met his fiance in California.

``She took my whole heart,'' Karlsen said, pulling photos of Ann Chi Erikes from his wallet.

They plan to marry a week after Karlsen arrives back in Sweden.

Details about the around-the-world voyage can be found at their Web site through Hotlinks at

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