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Dutch schoolchildren stranded on tallship in Caribbean sail home after their flights were cancelled

A group of 25 Dutch high school students with very little sailing experience were greeted in their home country after COVID-19 restrictions force them to ditch their flights and sail home.

The children, ages 14 to 17 accompanied by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational outreach cruise of the Caribbean when in March the pandemic forced them to radically change their plans for returning home.

Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for  Harlingen in Northern Netherland – a five-week voyage of nearly 3,800nnms, on board the 60-metre tallship Wylde Swan.

This rapid change of circumstances gave one of the young sailors, 17-year-old Floor Hurkmans, one of the biggest lessons of her impromptu adventure. “Being flexible, because everything is changing all the time,” she said as she set foot on dry land again. “The arrival time changed like 100 times. Being flexible is really important.”

As they arrived home, the students hoisted a self-made banner saying “Bucket List” with ticks in boxes for Atlantic Ocean crossing, mid-ocean swim and surviving the Bermuda triangle.

The twin-masted Wylde Swan sailed into Harlingen harbour late morning Sunday, its sails neatly stowed and the crew beaming from ear to ear. Onlookers gathered on a sea wall to watch the arrival, set off flares and a smoke grenade that sent an orange cloud drifting over the harbour.

“These children have had to adapt to enormous change. They 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,” Masterskip director Christophe Meijer, whose company arranged the excursion, said. “They’re the most adaptive children of 2020.”

Masterskip, the company that organised the cruise, runs five educational voyages for about 150 students in all each year. Crossing the Atlantic is nothing new for the Wylde Swan, which has made the trip about 20 times. However, this was one crossing that was not planned.
The company’s director, Christophe Meijer, said the students were monitored for the coronavirus in March to ensure nobody was infected.
He added that he was pleased the students had adapted to life on board and kept up their education on the long voyage.

“The children learned a lot about adaptivity, also about media attention, but also their normal school work,” he said. “So they are actually far ahead now of their Dutch school colleagues. They have made us very proud.”

“At home, you just have some moments for yourself, but here you have to be social all the time to everyone because you’re sleeping with them, you’re eating with them you’re just doing everything with them so you can’t really just relax,”