Fugitive from Communist tyrany, vagabond, author, artist, raconteur, lover of women, skalawag, gypsy of the sea, engineless-voyager, drinker, teetotaler, would-be circumnavigator, multi-linguist, philosopher, celestial navigator, survivor--put him in a suitcoat and trim his beard and Kris Larsen is a shoo-in for the next Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man in the World."
Readers, especially old sailors, may be familiar with the minimalist voyaging couple Lynn and Larry Pardey, who authored books about their adventures cruising without an engine. This tough and eccentric Australian makes the Pardy's look as if they had led a life of luxury.
So it must have been a bit of a comedown for Larsen to be assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard after the 62-year-old Australian mariner was reported to be disoriented off the coast of Maui on New Year's Eve. He was sailing solo, unlike in the photo at the top of the page. The Coast Guard took Larsen aboard and towed Kehaar to shore.
From the Coast Guard news release:
A 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boatcrew from Coast Guard Station Maui safely towed the 30-foot sailing vessel Kehaar Darwin to Sugar Beach, Maui. Customs and Border Protection personnel will interview the mariner before he resumes his voyage. “Being disoriented while at sea in a vessel with no communication capabilities aboard can be deadly if not handled quickly,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Schlereth, a boarding officer and engineer at Station Maui. “We commend the good Samaritan for recognizing the complications and contacting the proper authorities to initiate a rescue.”
At 3 p.m., watchstanders at Station Maui received a report from the operator of the commercial passenger vessel Trilogy V stating the master of the Kehaar Darwin flagged him down asking for assistance. Reportedly he appeared disoriented and was having trouble making it into port. He departed Panama approximately 104 days earlier enroute to Australia; his vessel became beset by weather forcing him into Hawaiian waters. He was without communications equipment and an engine and his sails were in poor condition. Weather on scene was reportedly 17 to 23 mph winds and seas to 4 feet.
A woman friend, who described Larsen in her blog as "lover, my greatest teacher and my best friend" quoted him explaining his peripatetic mission:
“I’ll be turning 60 later this year. I’ve been working for a living for the past 40 years and I am tired of working. Humans are the only animals who work for a living. All other creatures live for a living. And I still have five years to go till my old age pension. I have decided I am going sailing for those five years. I will live for a living, like all other creatures in the world.”
James Baldwin of S/V Atom is an author and circumnavigator. Here's how Baldwin described his introduction to Larsen in his book Next Distant Sea:
The next morning I rowed over to the strange craft and was invited aboard by the solo skipper. The tall, tanned bronze, and bearded 40-year-old introduced himself as Kris Larsen. He said he had just arrived after a slow 200-mile passage from the French Island of Mayotte. Kris gave me a brief tour of his steel boat, first pointing out the heavy but simple unstayed solid wood mast and control lines for the single sail.
We slid through a small round hatch in the flush deck like dropping into an amphibious tank. Inside of the mostly empty hull was fitted out with sparse accommodations. There were two bunks and a table that held an enormous Salvador Dali-like creation consisting of a half-melted mass of twisted candles that he used for lighting. Because the hull’s exterior was painted black and the boat had little ventilation, the late morning sun had already heated the interior beyond a tolerable level. Before we melted like the drooping candles, we retreated to the deck. “I never spend any time below during the day anyway. On deck or ashore, witnessing the world is where I need to be,” he explained.
I invited Kris over to visit with us under Atom’s wide cockpit awning. He came back the next two evenings to share dinner and stories of his travels. Although Kris seemed unusually wary of strangers, claiming he normally shunned the “judgmental” people found on bigger, expensive yachts, he was brutally honest with me in his portrayals of himself and others...A couple of years earlier, Kris had sailed Kehaar, his 33-foot engineless steel junk, singlehanded across the Indian Ocean from Tasmania.
But his adventures really began 18 years earlier when, at age 21, he had fled on foot from the oppressive communist rule in his native Czechoslovakia. He wandered through Western Europe without money, friends, or a valid passport, hounded by police from country to country. In his early travels he was forced into situations he wasn’t proud of. Like any young person, he was inexperienced and naive, but he was resourceful. As Kris put it in the memoir he wrote years after our first meeting, titled Out of Census: “Every real man who lived his life in full can dig up moments he is profoundly ashamed of. Often it was not his choice, when life forced his hand. That is not an excuse, though. If a bloke tells you that he has nothing to be ashamed of in his whole long life, he is either lying, or he never really lived.”
From his adventures on a steel boat to his unique life philosophy, Kris reminded me of that rare breed of adventurer, the controversial sailor-guru Bernard Moitessier...
Kris taught himself English and a smattering of other languages as he went from picking fruit and dodging police in Europe, to sandblasting ships in Singapore, to digging for gold in New Zealand. Along the way he was twice robbed of all his possessions and left with nothing but the old clothes on his back and a passport with someone else’s name in it. Eventually he married and settled down in Tasmania, where he worked building houses and shearing sheep. After a few more bad breaks, which he now blamed mostly on a weakness for Aussie beer, he found himself divorced, broke, and homeless.
Looking back on a decade of settled life with nothing to show for it, he did what many men in similar situations do: he decided to go to sea on his own boat as soon as he could arrange it. Most failed men also fail at making their escape. But Kris was not most men. He swore off alcohol, returned to work, and began saving money.