THRIVHER INTERVIEW: Maria Sandberg

Updated: Jul 24, 2018


Thrivher Achievements:

Sailing the world for a non-stop 3-year adventure



Thrivher Dive

Current position: Explorer, Sailor, Documentary Maker, Graphic Designer and “Student of life”

I can't start the day without: My alarm clock in the morning is Pretinha, the boat dog who wakes me up with kisses and never-ending love, so that positive energy I couldn’t imagine starting the day without.

Latest best read:  Collapse - Jared Diamonds. I was reading it crossing the Pacific and the book is about analysing ancient and recent societies and nature, why some collapse and some survive. Very interesting!

I love this quote: A sailor’s joys are simple - Tristan Jones.

Top music track: Depeche Mode - “Never Let Me down Again” and Tina Turner - “What’s love got to do with it”

Non-negotiable: Safety! Food planning, collecting rainwater, checking solar energy, anchor and weather.

Most afraid of: Not being there if something happens to family and friends far away.

Go to for fun: Dancing on a level as if there was no tomorrow.





THRIVHER MOVES:


Can you share with us the very first time this vision started to take shape?

It wasn’t my idea to begin with actually, it was my partner-in-crime and Captain, Modris. On our first date, he said that he had a dream of going sailing. He had always wanted to go travelling.  He’s an Engineer in Atmospheric Science and is passionate about nature. He did his PhD in Stockholm and it was his dream to see the weather and be free. I said, “Ok! Great! I’m coming.” So, 1 year later when we felt that time for a change was needed everything happened very fast, we got the boat and 3.5 years ago we set sails and left Stockholm! Neither of us had sailed before!   



What motivated you to make such a dramatic lifestyle change?

We met in Stockholm when I moved there to do my work placement as a Graphic Designer. Modris was doing research at the University of Stockholm. Our lives at that time were very busy and ultimately we were both really unhappy in that lifestyle. It was fun for a while, but the agency I worked for was changing and I was increasingly having to take on work I wasn’t trained for and didn’t want to do. It became so chaotic and eventually I just said “no thank you” and I quit. I didn’t have a new job to go to or any plans to continue in that direction, so we bought the boat instead!



Were you ever worried that you wouldn’t like it?

No. That would have been unnecessary energy wasted on things I had no way of knowing. I had no concerns about trying it and giving it a go. I was totally positive and committed from the start.



How long did it take you to get prepared for such an adventure?

I quit in December, then we bought the boat in April and we left in November!  We fixed the boat in six months, completed the licence for sailing and then we left in November running away from the ice (winter)!


The first six months were crazy, sailing for hours in the dark as there is no sunlight. We managed to get to France by the spring and we stayed there for eight months. We met a wonderful Oyster farming family and we worked for them and learned French - it was a fantastic experience. And that was what our goal always was - we didn’t even say to people that we were going to leave and sail off. We simply said we were going to try to live on a boat and integrate with new people and learn. We both speak quite a lot of languages and Modris was actually a translator before, so the whole idea was just to see where we ended up and what we liked. We had no destination in mind and no dates set – we didn’t plan to be away for three years, however we didn’t settle anywhere and we have just kept on going!


We had no destination in mind and no dates set – we didn’t plan to be away for three years, however we didn’t settle anywhere and we have just kept on going!


Do you think if you told yourself in the beginning you’re going to be away for three years, would you have believed that?

I don’t know because sailing was so unknown to us. I think it’s really hard to know at any time in your life, where you’re going to be in three years’ time. We’ve learned by doing and the lifestyle has grown from that. Time has passed very quickly and we have been enjoying the freedom and the lifestyle, so we have kept going.   



How did you choose to leave your first destination in France?

A few reasons really. The winter came and our work was seasonal, plus there was no heating on the boat, so when summer came to an end we were eager to continue sailing.  



Do you ever get seasick?

Yes, I do, every time!



Wow, so how do you cope with that?

I was so motivated to sail that I just didn’t really accept it. I told myself each time that it was just that one time! Fortunately Modris doesn’t get seasick so he could manage the boat when I was too weak and the trips were shorter. Although in the end, I found that on the longer trips we did, I wouldn’t get seasick at all. Besides, there is a lot of time just living on the boat, it’s not only sailing. Basically I really like the lifestyle so I just accept that there will be times when I am seasick. It’s worth it.      



You must have encountered some amazing wildlife on your travels. Did you witness anything particularly eye-opening?

Yes, actually it’s all wildlife – it’s just wild and so beautiful. The Pacific and its islands such like Vanuatu are like paradise. The fruit and the fish are so bountiful. The Island culture has such a strong respect for their nature, it’s at the heart of everything.


Hospitality on Wala Island, Vanuatu. “Lap Lap”- Traditional food cooked under hot stones.

It’s such a stark contrast to what we found in some areas of Indonesia, where we felt that the culture had been impacted. They are so focused on money, oil and religion - and people are starving as a consequence. It’s very sad.


We went through South East Asian waters north of the indonesian archipelago towards Java Sea and Malaysia (all the tourism is on the southern side of the islands) and for the first time we found ourselves in a place where we could not enjoy life and failed integrating after months of disappointments and heartbreaking situations. Our lifestyle to them was to foreign and I felt completely lost in the lack of common sense of people’s behaviour regarding environment.


On a negative note, it was shocking to witness the level of pollution in the ocean and on land and took us long time to believe this tragic development still going in the wrong direction. As we happened to end up in Indonesia off season, we did not only fight the monsoon we also had to fight all the garbage that these currents bring in our directions. There was just garbage everywhere!




I met a lovely girl, english teacher, from Indonesia who was the only person I found who recognised the garbage issue. She told me that three years ago bananas stopped growing properly and six years ago they had corals and fish and lobster, but that’s all gone now. I don’t know if the damage is reversible, it was terrible to witness and we tried for months to find an understanding for this unawareness. We could really see the effects of over-fishing too. Even in South America in some tropical places we found it really hard to find simple food necessities like fruit! It was unbelievable.


It was shocking to witness the level of pollution in the ocean and on land and took us long time to believe this tragic development still going in the wrong direction.

In Patagonia we visited the most remote island (north east of Cape Horn) where no humans ever inhabited and the vegetation there made me feel like Alice in Wonderland! We saw colonies of sea lions, lots of whales, dolphins and big birds but very few fish in the channels due to over-fishing. The whales were huge and I’d find that quite scary but the dolphins just loved the boat and would hang around to play like dogs!


The whales were huge and I’d find that quite scary but the dolphins just loved the boat and would hang around to play like dogs!


Traditional sailing canoe still used as only transport in remote parts of PNG (Papua New Guinea)


What are your best experiences of the last three years?  

There have been so many good moments! The Pacific Islands were incredible. That was such a relaxed and positive experience and the hospitality was fantastic. Vanuatu was just such a cultural experience with such a wonderful, healthy lifestyle - Vanuatu was a highlight for sure.

Cape Verde was also fantastic, such clever people. I think their lifestyle was the most impressive and meaningful that we countered. They don’t have money, but they have nature and they have such innovative solutions for surviving. If I had to pick one memorable moment, it would have to be when we witnessed a total solar eclipse in Patagonia. It was incredible, we had the perfect view. It took us completely by surprise and knocked us out. Also the people we got to know and lived with during the “circumnavigation” of the most southern part of the world was overwhelming, the sailors and locals robbed our heart many times in South America and not only Pretinha (our boat dog) jumped on board here!


They don’t have money, but they have nature and they have such innovative solutions for surviving.


Hospitality/ Fruit for everyone in Marquesas, French Polynesia.



Thriving and kicking



What is next on your agenda?

We had planned to sail back to Europe after Indonesia, but missed the season this year to cross the Indian ocean as we got stuck in the monsoon in Indonesia. So we are now selling the boat and flying back to France to work for the same family for the summer. Then we will travel slowly by car to Latvia, visiting friends and family en-route.


It’s not devastating to sell the boat, because we’re not attached to material things. We’ve given away and traded everything off for fruit and we’ve packed our bags and we’re ready to go.



What did you learn about yourself living on a boat for so long?

How to be self-sufficient and aware about how much resources and material you use and actually need. On a boat, you need to know exact quantities of everything – water, food, electricity. You are in total control of your existence and that’s something I never experienced before. So it completely changed my life and my mind in that sense. Similarly with my attitude towards consumerism – in three years we haven’t bought anything other than essentials for the boat or things we really needed. We repaired clothes and built things for the boat using bits and pieces from other things. We also avoided buying anything with packaging and kept garbage to a real minimum. We are planning to buy some new clothes before we go back to civilization! However, I will only buy things that will last and I will be careful about what I choose. Of course I am excited to get a new pair of jeans!


In three years we haven’t bought anything other than essentials for the boat or things we really needed


What three personality traits do you think have enabled you to make this journey?

First of all, I have a passion for languages, communication and other cultures. I love getting to know people and talking to people and sharing moments and learning about other lives.  I’m very open and social and interested in weird stuff! I really don’t care if I fail, or if something doesn’t go as planned, because it never has for me. I’ve always been very flexible. I also like to challenge myself to do things that I have no idea about at all – like sailing. I had no idea how to sail or live on a boat! Modris is the brains of the outfit, he’s the Captain - but I’m very practical and organised which was an important skill how to solve the puzzle how to manage food and things in their perfect place on a boat. It’s a good combination – I couldn’t have done it on my own.


I really don’t care if I fail, or if something doesn’t go as planned, because it never has for me.


Is there one piece of advice you wish you could have been given in your twenties?

Maybe it would be to do something that I haven’t really done - study. I didn’t want to go to University in Sweden, I just wanted to move and live abroad. However, if someone had suggested I go abroad to study I think that would have been a good experience.  



For any women reading this, who have big dreams and want to make a positive change in their life, what advice would you offer?

I would like to underline that I speak to everyone, regardless gender when I say; just say yes to what feels right for you – be brave and don’t make excuses! It’s not only about big dreams and big changes in life – small changes can be just as powerful and significant. You don’t have to do something crazy. Dreams come in all shapes and sizes, it’s entirely personal. You have to question every day, not just have a bucket list of things to do when you retire - because if you’re 25 and dreaming about something, you will be disappointed if you do it when you are 55, because you will not be the same person then. Don’t be afraid of change or to make small changes – it doesn’t have to be drastic. In my case, sailing around the world wasn’t even my dream – it was Modris’ dream. I was just very open to opportunities and living life and it all happened very naturally. That’s how things work for me, but it’s different for everyone.


It’s not only about big dreams and big changes in life – small changes can be just as powerful and significant.


How can people find you to learn about your travels and future documentaries?  

If you like the thrill to zoom in our beautiful world you can follow our track and find pictures or contact us visiting www.puravells.lv


To get an insight in sailing I put together a fun video in 2016 of our Atlantic crossing which can be watched on https://goo.gl/QY84zg


I am currently working on a few documentaries. One about a real character, Heinz who is a single-handed sailor in his late seventies. Another about The garbage issue in our beautiful world. Can be found on our website in future.



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