The Dutch ship Oosterschelde was cheered as it left the Brazilian capital on Tuesday afternoon on a two-year mission to work with future scientists who will study species discovered by Darwin and develop projects to save them.
The 50m (164ft) boat serves as a floating laboratory on the sea and in port, where some 200 young conservationists from around the world will meet along the way to take part in the project called Darwin200.
Director of the scheme, Stewart McPherson, said: “This mission is about hope, it’s about future and it’s about changing the world for the better.”
In Rio on Wednesday, in the shadow of The Museum of Tomorrow in the Port district of the 456.6 sq mile city, the guests on board the ship, made up of Darwin leaders and paying seamen, helped the crew cast off the lines and pull in the fenders as the wind blew the tall ship towards Uruguay’s Punta del Este – the ship’s next stop.
So far, the team have sailed more than 5,400 nautical miles (nm) since leaving Plymouth’s historic Sutton harbour in England on Monday 14 August. I am lucky enough to be joining the crew for the next 1,100nm.
I am never shy of a challenge. But as I stood on the deck of the Oosterschelde, a three-mastered schooner that has weathered the seas since 1918, I couldn’t help but feel a mix of excitement and nervousness.
The burning sun of Rio de Janeiro cast its relentless rays upon me, intensifying the anticipation of the journey ahead. This historic vessel, my home for the next 11 days, is not just a ship: it’s a floating testament to time and adventure.
The Oosterschelde, with its impressive three masts, is a spacious haven that can accommodate up to 24 guests and a crew of seven. As I made my way through the wide main companionway, I was greeted by the breath-taking main saloon.
What was once the main cargo hold is now a magnificent open-plan space, housing a bar, library, and lounge.
The polished oak tables and leather sofas create an atmosphere reminiscent of a Captain’s Great Cabin, making every evening meal a unique experience.
The ship, fitted for ocean travel and extended expeditions, is a floating oasis far from its home port of Rotterdam.
The saloon boasts a piano, a wood-burning stove, and shelves filled with books, magazines, and wildlife guides in various languages.
It’s a world unto itself, a refuge where the sea-faring community converges to share stories, experiences, and the thrill of the open water.
Surrounded by some of the world’s most inspiring individuals – the Darwin Leaders of the Darwin 200 programme – young environmentalists dedicated to the planet’s preservation, I can’t help but be humbled. The camaraderie among this diverse group creates an electric atmosphere, blending the love for adventure with a shared commitment to environmental stewardship.
As the boat rocks and the waves crash against the bow, I grapple with a mixture of sea sickness and anxiety. My wash bag is stocked with anti-sickness solutions, yet uncertainty lingers. Nevertheless, the prospect of getting my sea legs and embarking on what promises to be the adventure of a lifetime overtakes my reservations.
After days of my fair skin burning under the Brazilian sun, the windy conditions at sea on our second day of sailing were a welcome relief.
Divided into red, white, and blue groups mirroring the Dutch flag, each guest aboard is taking turns on watch duty on deck. My initiation into this routine occurred during the midnight to 4am shift. Despite fatigue and the biting chill of the wind, a warm cup of coffee graciously delivered by a remember proved a comforting companion. The velvety expanse of the Milky Way overhead was the only source of light, citing a celestial glow on the vessel.
In the absence of any artificial lights, I seized the opportunity to recline on a bean bag, absorbing the vastness of the ship against the backdrop of the night. The sheer scale of the Oosterschelde made me feel minuscule in comparison.
My solitude, however, was abruptly interrupted by an unexpected shift in the wind. The crew emerged from the quarterdeck, including the captain Jan-Willem Bos, with a sense of urgency. Tacking, the nautical term for changing the boat’s direction by turning the bow, became imperative. Startled, one of the crew members nearly stumbled over me as I lay on the deck, prompting me to spring into action and lend a hand in adjusting the sails.
For a brief, chaotic moment, the ship grappled with the force of the wind. Yet, as swiftly as the turbulence arrived, tranquillity was restored. The crew’s synchronised efforts brought the vessel back on course, cutting through the ocean waves under the moonlit night.
As we sailed deeper into the nocturnal expanse, a sense of camaraderie permeated the ship.
The shared experience of facing the unpredictable elements forged bonds among the guests and crew, from all corners of the world, united by their love for sailing.
With the memory of the night’s tumultuous twist still fresh, I found solace in being part of this seafaring adventure, where moments of serenity and sudden exhilaration danced together under the vast, star-studded sky.