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Dutch Students Complete Atlantic Ocean Crossing

2020-4-27

A group of Dutch high school students with little sailing experience completed a five-week trip across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday. The group said they returned home by boat instead of by airplane because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

The students, ages 14 to 17, were joined by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers. They had been taking part in an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the coronavirus outbreak forced them to greatly change the way they returned home.

The change in plans taught 17-year-old Floor Hurkmans an important life lesson.

Dutch teens cheer on their schooner Wylde Swan after sailing home from the Caribbean across the Atlantic Ocean when coronavirus lockdowns prevented them from flying, in the port of Harlingen, northern Netherlands, Sunday, April 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Dutch teens cheer on their schooner Wylde Swan after sailing home from the Caribbean across the Atlantic Ocean when coronavirus lockdowns prevented them from flying, in the port of Harlingen, northern Netherlands, Sunday, April 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

“Being flexible, because everything is changing all the time,” she said. “The arrival time changed like 100 times. Being flexible is really important.”

Instead of flying back home from Cuba as they had planned, the crew members and students gathered supplies and warm clothes. Then, they set sail for the Dutch port city of Harlingen, 7,000 kilometers away. Their boat, the Wylde Swan, arrived at Harlingen late Sunday morning. Observers gathered at a sea wall to watch the arrival.

As they arrived, the students hung up a self-made sign on the boat that read “Bucket List.” It showed they had completed activities that included crossing the Atlantic Ocean, mid-ocean swimming and surviving the Bermuda Triangle. The Bermuda Triangle is an area in the Atlantic where some people claim ships and planes have mysteriously disappeared.

The students’ family members were waiting for them at the port. Parents drove their cars next to the boat one by one to follow social distancing rules.

On the ship, it was impossible to follow any kind of social distancing, Hurkmans noted.

“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,” she said.

Her mother, Renee Scholtemeijer, said she expects her daughter to miss life on the open sea once she understands the coronavirus containment measures in the Netherlands.

“I think that after two days she’ll want to go back on the boat, because life is very boring back at home,” the mother said. “There’s nothing to do, she can’t visit friends, so it’s very boring.”

Masterskip, the company that organized the boat trip, runs five educational cruises for about 150 students each year. Crossing the Atlantic is nothing new for the Wylde Swan, which has made the trip about 20 times.

The company’s director, Christophe Meijer, said the students were examined for signs of the coronavirus in March to make sure nobody was infected.

He said he was pleased the students had adapted to life on the boat and had kept up their education on the long trip.

“They are actually far ahead now of their Dutch school colleagues,” Meijer said. “They have made us very proud.”

I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

cruise –n. a trip for pleasure by boat

flexible –adj. willing to change and try different things

bucket list –n. a list of things that a person has not done before but wants to try at least once in their life

relax –v. to become less tense, to ease tension

boring –adj. not interesting

adapted –v. to change behavior to make it easier to live under a new set of conditions

colleague –n. a fellow worker