Sven Yrvind has always swum against the tide.
When the 73-year-old Swedish sailor and adventurer was asked to give a talk in front of the Swedish king and queen, he refused because he wouldn’t get paid.
“They (the organizers) told me that doing it was considered an honour,” he scoffs.
The lecture went ahead a few months later after an oil millionaire stepped in and paid Yrvind, which means “whirlwind,” his fee. But even then, he refused to don the black tailcoat organizers wanted him to wear.
“Even five minutes before I was about to enter the room, they had a tailcoat there for me to wear. ‘Wear this, otherwise everybody will look at you,’ they said,” Yrvind recalls.
He never wore it. “I have my principles,” he says.
It would be easy to dismiss this principled pensioner’s plan to circumnavigate the globe in a 10-foot (three metre) boat as a flight of fancy, if it weren’t for his many achievements as a sailor and a boat builder.
In 1980, he received a medal from Britain’s Royal Cruising Club after he rounded Chile’s Cape Horn, one of the world’s most hazardous sailing routes, in a 20-foot-long vessel. In 1983, a yachting museum in the US elected him into its hall of fame.
The Yrvind Ten, named after its length, will be made of composite foam and fibreglass, and will weigh around 1.5 tonnes.
Two three-metre tall masts will be placed side by side, and a seatbelt will ensure its owner is strapped to his bed even when travelling through waters where waves tower as high as 30 or 40 metres.
Around 400 kilogrammes of food and 100 kilos of books will be placed in the bottom of the boat, which has been designed to right itself if it capsizes.
Cookbooks are unlikely to feature in his reading material, since his diet will only consist of muesli, vitamins and canned sardines.
“People ask me if I’ll get bored with eating that, but that’s because people eat before they get hungry,” he says.
Life at sea has always been more tolerable for Yrvind than the manic pace of life on land, where he often feels misunderstood and out of place. One of the reasons has been his dyslexia, which he believes is linked to a different way of thinking.
On his first day of school, Yrvind’s teacher sent him back home saying he was a problem child. He was eventually sent to a school for students with special needs, where “at least the teachers were nice.”
It wasn’t until much later — after running away from his military service, ending up in jail and being let out only after signing a paper that said he was mentally ill — that he discovered mathematics.
“I began reading books about boat construction, and they include a lot of maths. So I … bought my own books and became very good at it in the end,” he says.
Despite never graduating from school, his love for the subject got him a job as a maths teacher in a psychiatric institution for children in the late 1960s. His employer gave him a glowing reference, but it wasn’t enough to keep him on land.
Yrvind’s first boat journey only took him around the archipelago off western Sweden’s coast, but that was enough for him to get a taste of what it was like “to be a nomad,” he says.
Life at sea allowed him to get away from modern life’s constant flow of information, which he likened to “having a spotlight in your face.”
“After about a month (at sea) you start to notice things that you wouldn’t have thought about before. Things take on a different meaning,” he says of a 45-day sailing trip in 2011 from the Portuguese island of Madeira to the Caribbean island of Martinique.
His non-stop trip around the world is estimated to take around 600 days, but he has yet to reveal the starting date.
Yrvind hopes his three-metre boat, in addition to setting a world record for being the smallest one ever to cruise the globe, will draw attention to environmental issues, since it will illustrate that bigger isn’t always better.
Asked about the dangers he will face during his trip, he preferred to talk about the perils of not attempting it.
“People don’t understand that this life we’re living is dangerous. It’s a sedentary lifestyle and people are getting fat,” he explains.
But crashing his boat into one of the icebergs that could cross his path in the southern hemisphere would mean “the end”, he admitted.
Although he describes himself as a loner, Yrvind has been married four times.
“I have my own ideas on how to live life,” he says of his four marriages.
“It works out well in the beginning, but then they always start to talk about children. And that wouldn’t work for someone like me. You’d have to get a bigger boat,” he adds.