Dutch students complete Atlantic crossing forced by virus

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

HARLINGEN – Greeted by relieved parents, pet dogs, flares and a cloud of orange smoke, a group of 25 Dutch high school students with very little sailing experience ended a trans-Atlantic voyage Sunday that was forced on them by coronavirus restrictions.

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

That gave one of the young sailors, 17-year-old Floor Hurkmans, one of the biggest lessons of her impromptu adventure.

“Being flexible, because everything is changing all the time,” she said as she set foot on dry land again. “The arrival time changed like 100 times. Being flexible is really important.”

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 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles), on board the 60-meter (200-foot) top sail schooner Wylde Swan.

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

The teens 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 rein in the spread of the virus that forced the students into their long trip home.

For Hurkmans, the impossibility of any kind of social distancing took some getting used to.