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Hans Klaar: The Antidote

Tim Zimmermann finds an irresistible pull in the way of life of Hans Klaar, a longtime voyager and builder of Polynesian-style blue water catamarans.

May 16, 2013
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Hans Klaar

Hans Klaar

Voyager Hans Klaar sets off

I can’t quite process the sadness of Andrew Simpson’s death during training for the America’s Cup, and what its implications will be (though I do know that the America’s Cup is a far too silly and cosmically meaningless event to be worth the loss of a life). Even before the Artemis AC72 trapped Simpson underwater and cast a pall over the 34th America’s Cup, it was hard to avoid the feeling that the whole thing had somehow–in its quest for television ratings and broader public appeal–become about something other than sailing. So I guess I was already starting to turn away from the America’s Cup, finding more inspiration and more connection to the essence of sailing in the ideas and adventures of other sailors.

I have written about the peripatetic and solitude-loving Webb Chiles, preparing to set sail around the globe alone (for the sixth time!) in a Moore 24. I have written about James Burwick and his young family, voyaging the Southern Ocean in an Open 40, and preparing to set sail again from New Zealand with a newborn added to the manifest. And now I want to write about a sailor and adventurer named Hans Klaar.

Klaar is a longtime voyager and builder of Polynesian-style blue water catamarans. He has weathered all types of storms in life, including a charge of rape and a stay in a South African prison (upon appeal he was released early). What I love about Klaar is that no matter the adversity he faces, he always finds solace and redemption in the simplicity of the sea, and the deep rewards of building and sailing your own vessel. That is the sort of story I need after a week of black news from San Francisco.

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Klaar always gravitates toward the open ocean. So naturally, following his release from prison in 2011, he disappeared into the wilds of the west coast of Africa to build himself a new 72-foot voyaging catamaran.

He launched it in 2012, and set out north, first stopping the Azores, and then heading for Portugal. He sent me this progress report late last year:

“Boat sails well, becoming a bit of a monster in winds under 5 knots, and wave action really is not something she likes due to being so light. Otherwise had a fast trip up from Cape Verde–17 days to the Azores (sailed in the slipstream of a failed hurricane, Nadine), and got a perfect lift almost halfway by Day 5. Then the lack of engine made itself felt [in the Azorean High], but once out had three days of strong northerlys before the long prayed for westerly clicked in.

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Same went for the Azores to Cape Saint Vincent stretch. Four and a half days for 700 miles, only to get stuck 80 miles out with no wind, waiting for the inevitable bad weather–in winter not uncommon–to roll you. Which it did four days later and cracked the already compromised mast, so that I really have to nurse it (until I find a new tree). I am now in Lagos, in the Algarve, on mainland Portugal, hoping to lay the boat up for a month while I go and spend Christmas with my family in Switzerland.

Boat performs well over all. I have been singlehanding this 70-footer since the Cape Verde islands. That’s how easy she is to handle. I also don’t steer any more–my $3 bungee cord and tweaking of the sail does it all. So that frees one up to doing absolutely nothing. It was fun to work and paint in the Azorean high. But once up in the colder parts all that one could do was lay up in the bunk and read, drink hot tea, and wait for another day and just keep warm.”

I never know when Klaar will next check in, but each update he sends me reminds me that life is not a rehearsal, and that there is a wonderful freedom that is the essence of voyaging, and wandering the globe according to the vicissitudes of fate and the wind. So I was happy to hear from him last week, and find that he wintered in the Algarve, plans to river-hop up the Portuguese coast, and bought a surfboard to wile away the hours ashore. He also has some ideas about Madeira and Morocco.

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Even more interesting, it appears he ran into a woman who lives a life at least as unconventional as his own:

“Met this crazy chick who collects and consumes road kill–fox and badger being on top of the list. We did two car-bashed hares, but that’s about as far as I would go, and I consider myself rather inured against all. She also built four Irish coracles from fresh cow skin, which smelled to the high heavens. The coracles’ cow skins still had the cows’ tails affixed, which made a practical painter, albeit a bit on the short side. Paddling them was also something to get used to, but once learned it is a piece of cake and great for laughs.”

Fortified by the flattened hare, no doubt, Klaar has been working on his boat:

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“I made a new main, 85 meters square, out of agricultural polyprop canvas. Took me all of three days to do and cost was $180. Should last two years, and it sets well as you can see. This is us, sailing out of Portimao early in the morning, with a perfect land breeze and light.”

The independence and whimsy of Klaar’s way of life has an almost irresistible pull, the sort of pull that, well, lures young boys like Hans Klaar to sea. For pure adventure, self-sufficiency, and seamanship, it exceeds anything the America’s Cup can offer a young sailor. And it’s hard not to contrast the two experiences when you take a close look at what really matters in life.

And here is the kicker: Klaar is looking for crew to join him for “a spot of river and coastal excursions in this region of Old Europe, if they are fit, from now till September. Just spare me the wannabes and sleepyheads.”**

So if you or someone you know is ready for a true adventure this summer, then a voyage with Hans Klaar could be just the right answer (not sure whether roadkill stew will be involved). Just send me your contact info and brief bio ([email protected]), and I’ll pass serious inquiries on to Hans. **

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