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Sailing the Atlantic with School at Sea

Learning about Lilya’s adventure sponsored by Oceanco

Imagine being 15 years old and spending six months on sea, traveling 12.873 nautical miles across the Atlantic ocean, visiting exotic sites, learning to sail, and keeping up with your schoolwork. With the revolutionary School at Sea program, Lilya Bisscheroux set out on this journey with Oceanco as her main sponsor.

Continue reading to discover the first part of her journey.

The route: Harlingen → Dieppe → Cherbourg → Falmouth → Porto Santo → Tenerife → Dominica → Curaçao → San Blas → Panama → Bermuda → Azoren → Den Helder → Harlingen

Captain’s log: leaving all known land behind us, what was it like?

On October 17th of 2021, we said goodbye to our parents in Harlingen, 12,873 nautical miles later we have returned. Half a year filled with experiences, learning moments, keeping watch, school, excursions, ship takeovers and all special things that simply cannot simply be described in one word. We left as 37 students on an unfamiliar ship, we returned on April 16th as one group with the Thalassa as our home. “What was it like?” they ask. The question about which our parents got told it is an absolute no-go, because there is no way for us to answer it. How was it? Where am I even supposed to start?

Barquentine Thalassa, the three master tall ship which hosts School at Sea.

The adventure started way before we departed, leaving all known land behind us. It started back in summer 2020, when I decided I wanted to sign up for School at Sea and travel to the Caribbean and back within half a year. School at Sea is a Dutch talent development program for youth around sixteen years old. It allows us to independently do our schoolwork on board of a tallship, while discovering foreign cultures and learning things we couldn’t even grasp before we left. That exactly is the philosophy of School at Sea; giving teenagers the chance to live this challenge, with all responsibilities involved, based on an incredible amount of trust. A big dream which became a big plan. A big plan that had to be realised… and I had to make that happen. The fundraising for this journey was part of the process; each student had to raise 25.000 euros in order to step on board. To achieve this, all of us already used so many different unique talents and learnt how to approach companies. Most importantly, we learnt how to deal with the setbacks which would be thrown at us. This journey towards the journey included countless emails and phone calls. First within your own network, but then also outside of it, because your network only reaches so far.

At some point my parents told me about Oceanco. I took a deep dive into the company’s website and became really enthusiastic about Oceanco’s ethics and the projects they support. Perhaps they would be willing to mean something in my plan to go with School at Sea? Why not give it a try? So, hoping for the best, I sent an email to Bas Swanink, telling about this dream and explaining my fundraising plans. Not much later, I got a very enthusiastic reply back and from then on I had regular contact with Oceanco about my School at Sea adventure, in which they were willing to support me! In October, the day of departure came around and I was able to step on board of the Thalassa thanks to the hard work and very importantly; the help of many friends, family and Oceanco as one of my proud sponsors!

Lilya posing in Tenerife with the Oceanco’s Collectables of award-winnning Bravo Eugenia.

We left Harlingen and after we learnt the basics of life on board, we were ready to set sail. Well, “ready”… ready enough to depart and start learning many, many things. We arrived in Dieppe after the first period of being at sea. An intense time of learning so many things a day that we’d lose count; learning to cook for fifty people, cleaning the ship, completing all tasks and being taught all ins and outs of sailing a tallship. After some days there, we continued in the direction of the South, with two short stops near Cherbourg and Falmouth. Then we officially set sail to Porto Santo, a small island in the Madeira archipelago. Throughout most parts of the English Channel we were motorsailing due to wind and weather conditions. So in the days of approaching Porto Santo, we became acquainted with the peace of having all sails set and just calmly being pushed forward by the wind. The seasickness slowly got conquered by most of us and soon there were only bright smiles walking around on deck.

The first harbour stop on an island: Porto Santo, Portugal.

After a longer stay on Porto Santo, where we got to discover the island, we headed towards the first official School at Sea destination: Tenerife. I wrote a whole blog on that, so I won’t expand too much on it here. It was an incredible time and, I would say, a turning point of understanding the way of life on board, realising the responsibilities that come with it. We started to develop in a very different way than we were used to, both in the group and as individuals. After Tenerife, our first big ocean crossing started. The first miles over the Atlantic were sailed and we slowly started approaching Dominica. Slowly, because there was a vast, blue ocean ahead of us. Such a thrilling thought, having so much “empty” space in front of you. No clue what you will encounter on your way and even less of a clue what you will encounter on the other side. Another really special moment was when me and a friend, in the middle of our watch, suddenly realised that we were equally far from both shores of the ocean. Going further and further away from home, closer and closer to this mysterious island which would hold many adventures for us. Far away from everywhere, but with each other, on our Thalassa, close to the ocean.

Lilya and her friends exploring the island of Tenerife (Spain).

View from the mountain top after a long trekking excursion. Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain).

Follow us in the next Captain’s log as we recount Lylia’s voyage.

We will see you at the next destination: America!