This article is written by Sophie Schönherr, our newest active member and passionate ocean advocate. Her sailing stories have the whole team longing for the open water. We hope you enjoy her story just as much as we did!
“Worldwide, Covid-19 has led to travel restrictions, social distancing, and hindrances in the professional world. In my case, however, the pandemic has taken me on a 7000 nautical mile sailing journey that started from the Canary Islands and ended in the beautiful turquoise waters of the Bahamas…”
December 2020 – When it all started...
In December 2020, I was still in Tenerife where I had completed my Divemaster course when I had to make a decision: would I go back home to my family in Luxembourg for Christmas where they just announced a second lock-down, or would I try to find a new adventure that would allow me to keep working in the marine environment? When I was discussing potential plans to go to the Caribbean to work there as a Divemaster, a friend of mine told me that every year sailboats leave from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. I was immediately hooked on the idea of sailing across the Atlantic. After a bit of research on the internet, a few messages and a phone call, I took a ferry to Gran Canaria and became crew on the boat Oceans. Lucky as I am, the captain of the boat – Andy Lange – not only planned to sail to the Caribbean but had just launched the Oceans Project, which aims to contribute to marine protection and conservation around the world.
The first leg of the journey took us from Gran Canaria to São Vicente – an island of the Cape Verdes – in just 10 days. For these few days, we were completely out of reach from the world, surrounded by nothing but water, the only sounds being the ones created by the wind and the waves. The only things that mattered then were the sunrise and the sunset. Once in the Cape Verdes, however, I realized that this harmony on the boat can be interrupted very quickly because things on boats break. Suddenly and unexpectedly. And so did our engine. Even though sailing hardly requires the use of an engine, it is always good to have a working engine in case of an emergency. The quite lengthy repairs of the engine forced us to stay in São Vicente for a month, which allowed me to explore a new culture and to get to know the locals and their stories. At the end of January, we were finally ready for the Atlantic crossing.
February 2021 – The Atlantic Crossing
Our destination on the other side of the Atlantic was Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. For the next 14 days, I had to get up at 3 am to start my working shift. Now you may be thinking that this is way too early in the morning, but a good cup of coffee and the sight of countless shooting stars did make up for the early start. With time passing, the sky turned from black to blue, pink, red, orange and yellow until the sun decided to slowly show its glory on the horizon. And that moment – when you could feel these first warm sun rays on your skin – was my favourite time of the day.
On our way to Brazil, we were accompanied by flying fish (that sometimes also landed on the boat), marine birds that took a rest on our boat for the night, and on very lucky occasions dolphins and even once a fin whale. While these marine encounters were remarkable, I was even more amazed by a simple comment from the captain. Somewhat mid-way of our journey, in the middle of the Atlantic, Andy just casually mentioned that at this point we were closer to the astronauts in their space station than to any human being on either side of the Atlantic. That thought just blew my mind! And it made me realize just how big our oceans are.
After two weeks at sea, we finally made it to Brazil! Unfortunately, whilst we were out at sea, away from all communication and news, a new law had passed: The Brazilian government was no longer allowing travellers arriving by private boats to enter the country. Fortunately, Dominique – another great captain and partner of the Oceans Project– had organized a new project for us. This time it would take us to Grand Bahama, the Bahamas.
March 2021 – Another month at sea
Roughly 3600 nautical miles separate Fernando de Noronha from Grand Bahama – that’s more than travelling from the East to the West coast of the USA! It may therefore be of no surprise that it took us one entire month to sail past the northern shore of Brazil, before crossing the Caribbean from South to North and finally arriving in the shallow waters of the Bahamas. After this month of isolation, I have to admit that being greeted by a large group of people, all asking questions about our trip, was quite overwhelming. After all, I hadn’t seen other faces and expressions or heard other voices for quite a long time.
In the Bahamas, I got to work with the team from the coral restoration company Coral Vita. I learnt about coral restoration processes and what it takes to build a “coral farm”, cleaned coral fragments and went on coral outplant dives. At the same time, I also had the chance to make the acquaintance of the famous shark expert and cave diver, Cristina Zenato.
After three months in the Caribbean and 8 months away from home, I decided it was time to go back home to see my family and friends, before embarking on yet another adventure. Starting this September, I will be an intern of the Visiting Student Research Program (VSRP) of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia where I am looking forward to contributing to groundbreaking marine research in the Red Sea.