Setting sails for seven weeks at sea

AMSTERDAM – A group of young Europeans said goodbye to friends and family before leaving shore and sailing from Amsterdam to Chile for the COP25 to call for a future of climate-neutral travel.

By Natasha Jahanshahi

A young man with wavy, shoulder-length hair is making large movements with his arms, as he is folding a bright red accordion in and out. He stomps his foot in the floor to the rhythm of the music as small pearls of sweat are starting to drip from his forehead.  Half-empty glass cups of beer are scattered on tall tables around the small wooden cottage at café De Ceuvel in the northern part of Amsterdam.  It’s difficult to move around the room because of the crowd of people, swaying from side to side to the sounds of the accordion, while singing: “There is plastic all over the ocean, there is plastic all over the sea – so bring back the plastic to me.” They are all clutching a piece of paper in their hands so they can follow the song. Their voices fill the room, and their smiles are growing bigger as they catch each other’s eyes and sing even louder.

A young woman with blonde hair, walks into the room and lays a hand on an elderly man’s shoulders to greet him. She is wearing a long sleeved t-shirt in red, her skirt is red too – the same color that 35 other young people have dressed themselves in. Anticipation and excitement is filling the room. Tonight the young people dressed in red are saying goodbye to friends and family. In just two days they are setting sails to cross the ocean on a seven-week voyage to the COP25 in Chile. Their mission: to raise awareness of the negative impact air travel has on the environment.

On 2 October, 36 young people from Europe will begin a seven-week long travel to Chile by boat. Saturday night, they said goodbye to family and friends.

From December 2-13 the 25th yearly UN Climate conference COP25 will take place in Chile. Here, delegates from around the world, including ministers responsible for environment and climate changes, will discuss and negotiate the climate change the Earth is facing. Joining them is a group of 36 people from Europe who are going to reach Chile by boat. “Sail to the COP” is the name of the initiative. Their main goal is to be a voice for young people at the COP and to call for climate-neutral travel in the future. The trip from Amsterdam to Santiago is going to take them between six and eight weeks. Along the way they will establish a think tank to come up with more sustainable ways of travel in the future, which they will present at the COP.

Outside of the cottage, more and more people are starting to arrive at the farewell party. They are gathering around wooden benches, warming themselves on a beer under the sky that by now has turned pitch black. It smells like summer camp as little golden embers are floating in the air from the crackling bonfire in the corner. The sound of a hang drum mixes with English speaking voices with all sorts of accents. “There is a lot of stuff, I’m nervous about…,” says Eva Dijkema, a 28-year old green innovator at ProRail in the Netherlands. She glances quickly at her boyfriend, giving him a faint smile She has never crossed an ocean by sailboat before. “Just things like being on a boat with so many people who I don’t know,” continues Eva. For most of the crew, tonight is the first time they meet face to face. But even though Eva is starting to get nervous, this was an opportunity, she could not pass. “I mean it is a once in a life time opportunity, to be able to cross the ocean on boat, and it’s for such a good cause,” says Eva, who was sponsored by her work to go on the trip.

Eva is interrupted by a middle-aged woman with short grey hair and round, black glasses. It is one of the crew-members’ mother. She jumps up on one of the wooden benches and all of the people, standing outside look to her. She reads out loud from a postcard – a speech for the crew. “I hope you will be able to change the political wind,” she ends her speech, and raises her glass of beer to the group of young people in red, wishing them a good trip.

Eva Dijkema applauds as the woman finishes her speech, and takes a sip of her beer. Her mission with joining the COP25 meeting is to create a vision of what ProRail can do as a rail company. “I want concrete ideas and plans that I can execute when I gets back home to work,” Eva says. But when Eva Dijkema will return home from Chile is unsure. The same goes for the rest of the young people. “None of us is going to take the plane, that is the whole point. It is too bad for the environment, so we are all going to try and find our own way back… It could take months,” says Eva. She is considering to take a cargo ship back, which is ironic, she says, because that is bad for the environment too. “But I guess it’s somehow better, because it is going to sail anyway,” she says.