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Dutch students complete Atlantic crossing after virus forces change of plan

The youngsters, aged 14 to 17, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic hit.

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Dutch teenagers on board the schooner they helped sail across the Atlantic arrive at the port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

Dutch teenagers on board the schooner they helped sail across the Atlantic arrive at the port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

Dutch teenagers on board the schooner they helped sail across the Atlantic arrive at the port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

A group of 25 Dutch students with limited sailing experience have ended a transatlantic voyage forced on them by coronavirus restrictions.

The youngsters, aged 14 to 17, and watched over by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic caused them to radically change their plans for returning home in March.

Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for the northern Dutch port of Harlingen, a five-week voyage of nearly 7,000km (4,350 miles), on board the 60-metre (200ft) top sail schooner Wylde Swan.

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Students aboard the schooner the Wylde Swan (Peter Dejong/AP)

Students aboard the schooner the Wylde Swan (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Students aboard the schooner the Wylde Swan (Peter Dejong/AP)

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

They were greeted by relieved parents, pet dogs, flares and a cloud of orange smoke.

The teenagers hugged and chanted each other’s names as they walked off the ship and into the arms of their families, who drove their cars alongside the yacht one by one to adhere to social distancing rules imposed to limit the spread of the virus that forced the students into their long trip home.

Young sailor Floor Hurkmans, 17, said the impossibility of any kind of social distancing on the vessel took some getting used to.

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Families were reunited as students disembarked at the northern Dutch port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

Families were reunited as students disembarked at the northern Dutch port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Families were reunited as students disembarked at the northern Dutch port of Harlingen (Peter Dejong/AP)

“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,” she said.

Her mother, Renee Scholtemeijer, said she expected her daughter to miss life on the open sea once she encountered 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,” she said.

“There’s nothing to do, she can’t visit friends, so it’s very boring.”

The twin-masted Wylde Swan glided into Harlingen harbour late morning on Sunday, its sails neatly stowed.

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Pets and students were reunited (Peter Dejong/AP)

Pets and students were reunited (Peter Dejong/AP)

AP/PA Images

Pets and students were reunited (Peter Dejong/AP)

Onlookers who gathered on a sea wall to watch the arrival set off flares and a smoke grenade that sent an orange cloud drifting over the water.

Masterskip, the company that organised the cruise, runs five educational voyages for about 150 students each year. And 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 monitored for the coronavirus in March to ensure nobody was infected.

He said 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.”

PA Media