Ships in a Dutch port - student sail across the Atlantic Ocean

Stranded In Cuba, Dutch Students Sail Home Across The Atlantic Ocean


Watch out, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Yesterday, a schooner with 25 Dutch high school students aboard made port in Harlingen, Netherlands. The students, along with 3 teachers and 12 experienced sailors, had completed a 7,000 kilometer crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Only, that was far from the crew’s original plan.

The Associated Press reports that the children, age 14 to 17, had earlier flown to the Caribbean for an educational sailboat cruise organized by a prominent Dutch company known as Masterskip. However, when the cruise ended in Cuba in mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic had changed the world. The students were unable to secure flights back to the Netherlands.

After consultation with the childrens’ parents, Masterskip Director Christophe Meijer decided to chart a course back home via the Atlantic Ocean. The crossing took five weeks. It was the twentieth trans-Atlantic journey made by the 200-foot schooner known as the Wylde Swan. During the expedition, the children learned to sail, cook, and survive at sea. All the while, the teachers onboard made sure that the students continued with their studies.

β€œ[These children] went from the Netherlands to the Caribbean to go sailing. That’s amazing in itself. Then suddenly you have to change the whole program and you have to cross the ocean… They’re the most adaptive children of 2020.”

Masterskip director Christophe Meijer

The arrival in Harlingen was a scene of great joy with the children, sailors and onlookers hugging, cheering and chanting. The children disembarked from the Wylde Swan one-by-one in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. They were welcomed into the arms of emotional family members.

Echoes of Sir Shackleton’s adventure

The unexpected trans-Atlantic crossing of the Dutch high school students, though not quite as harrowing, is reminiscent of the legendary adventure of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Both journeys occurred during a time of global upheaval.

Eleven days after the first shots of World War I were fired, famed Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton launched an expedition to Antarctica. His ship, the Endurance, departed Plymouth, England on August 8, 1914 with 28 crew members. On January 18, 1915 the ship became trapped in an ice floe near Antarctica. What followed is arguably the greatest story of perseverance and survival in the history of the modern world.

The Endurance drifted with the sea ice for ten months before the crew decided to abandon ship and establish camp on the ice. In November 1915, the ice crushed the Endurance, causing it to sink. Shackleton and his crew survived on meager rations in freezing conditions until April 1916 when the ice began to dissipate. Then he and five of the seamen sailed a 20-foot lifeboat over 700 miles to South Georgia Island. They were at sea for 16 days. On May 20, 1916, Shackleton and two of the men reached the safety of Stromness whaling station. Rescue crews were able to retrieve the other 25 members of the expedition.

In his book South!, Shackleton described his encounter with Mr. Sorlle, the manager of the whaling station. Having been out of communication for 21 months, Shackleton was eager to know what had transpired in the world.

“Tell me, when was the war over?” he asked.

“The war is not over,” Sorlle answered.  “Millions are being killed.
Europe is mad.  The world is mad.”

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