The magnificent historic Dutch tall ship Oosterschelde is setting sail from Sutton Harbour, Plymouth, today (15 August) on a two-year, 40,000 nautical mile planetary conservation expedition called DARWIN200.
Sailing the ship between ports will be a mix of adventure travellers and environmental researchers, who will be tasked with steering, navigating and manning the ropes of the three-masted topsail schooner under the guidance of a professional crew.
Along the way they’ll document ocean plastics and coral reef health, and undertake surveys of seabirds, whales and dolphins. The data collected will form part of a citizen-science outreach project, and students and members of the public will be able to join in weekly interactive ‘nature hour’ sessions beamed live from the ship turning it into the ‘World’s Most Exciting Classroom!'
Oosterschelde will drop anchor in 32 ports across four continents where exceptional young environmentalists, known as DARWIN200 Leaders, will join the ship. They’ll each spend a week working with local NGOs and conservation experts to study endemic species, including many that Darwin documented during his expedition including looking at how the population of their chosen species has changed over the last two centuries, its current conservation status and existing threats; evaluating ongoing conservation efforts and carrying out novel research and investigative work to develop new ideas for action to ensure that their chosen animal or plant species has a brighter future.
The intent is to give each Darwin Leader real-world experience in studying conservation subjects, build new skills in investigating and solving problems, and practice working in collaboration with experienced partners to develop new strategies to save wildlife.
DARWIN200 Founder and Mission Director Stewart McPherson says: “Charles Darwin was only 22 when he set sail from Plymouth on his life-changing voyage in 1831 aboard HMS Beagle, famously saying that it was by far the most important event in his life, determining his whole career.
“We wanted to create a similarly transformative experience for members of the public and 200 of the world’s brightest young environmentalists, who have the potential to be the STEM and conservation leaders of tomorrow and the catalysts to change the future of planet Earth for the better.”
The route includes many of the greatest wildlife sites and wonders on Earth – from the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil to the most-remote inhabited island on Earth, smouldering volcanoes to tropical atolls in azure waters and the unique, endemic life of the Galapagos Islands.
The route will take the Oosterschelde to destinations including Spain, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Australia, South Africa and Portugal.
Oosterschelde is a three mast tall ship, and one of the world’s finest, fully restored historic tall ships and the largest sailing vessel ever to be restored in the Netherlands. She is registered by the Dutch Government as a monument of great cultural and historical value. The ship is one of the oldest and most authentic ships in the international fleet of Tall Ships.
Oosterschelde relaunched after a major refurbishment in 1996 and was recommissioned by Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of The Netherlands. She is a bastion of Dutch ship building and is described by the ship’s Director and Captain Gerben Nab as having had at least five lives, starting in 1917 as a cargo vessel.
Over the past 30 years Oosterschelde has welcomed thousands of sailors and adventure seekers on board, including royalty, politicians, presidents and pop stars, even once hosting a birthday party for Sir Tom Jones!
Oosterschelde was the first Dutch commercial tall ship to sail to both the north and south poles and successfully tackle the infamous Cape Horn, a rocky headland on Hornos Island, in southern Chile known for its hazardous waters.
During the pandemic when the world was locked down, a team of Dutch ship builders worked tirelessly to elevate Oosterschelde to the next level in preparation for DARWIN200. As part of the DARWIN200 voyage Oosterschelde will once again navigate Cape Horn, considered the Mount Everest of sailing.
Oosterschelde’s Director Gerben Nab says, “Cape Horn was identified by mariners and first rounded in 1616 by the Dutchmen Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, who named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. In 1997, Oosterschelde was the first merchant sailing ship since 1911 to round “The Horn” again. In 2024 we will do it for the third time.
“Decades of experience safely navigating our oceans have prepared us well for this very special expedition and we can’t wait to set sail on this incredible DARWIN200 voyage and share it with as many people as possible.”
Dame Jane Goodall, Patron of DARWIN200, says: “I believe that this project is tremendously important. It comes at the right time. We all know we’re in the midst of the sixth great extinction with a lot of doom and gloom about the problems facing the environment, climate change and loss of biodiversity.
“This voyage will give many people an opportunity to see there is still time to make change. We all have a role to play. We can all help make a difference. But for those young environmentalists who are selected, this is an incredible opportunity to become real leaders that protect the planet and the environment for future generations.”