It’s actually incredible to think that Class Afloat was able to go to Russia. Many students were looking forward to that port.

Let me explain to you how the customs in Russia were as they looked very Russian. You have to imagine 8 Russian military people who came in the boat in rank. They inspected our visas one after another and we had to wait on the deck in the cold. After looking at our visas, they inspected the boat with a dog. So, it was a very interesting experience.

St.Petersburg is very magnificent. There are very big buildings that are ancient and nice churches with golden ornaments. Some of the students went to visit the Orthodox Church and said that it was so nice and interesting. Some students went around St.Petersburg by bike and had a lot of fun.

For the port program, we went to the Summer Palace and the Hermitage. It is the old palace of the Romanoff family and now it’s an art museum. They say that if you spent 30 seconds looking at every piece of art in the Hermitage, it will take you one month to see them all. And what is nice is that it is right in the centre of the city so the location is incredible.

For my part, I spent a day at the spa, having a nice massage and experiencing the Russian bath. It was a very nice experience. You pass from a sauna to freezing water then to a pool at body temperature. After that, you feel so alive. A very fun part of the Russian spa is that inside the spa you get whipped by branches and you get to wear a Russian traditional sauna hat that you fill with ice. Then after the spa, we went to eat a very nice meal: subway so yummy!!!

I went to the Peterhof palace. He was the first Emperor in Russia and his palace is so big with beautiful gardens full of fountains and magnificent alleys. I think you could spend days there too, to see everything.

I found Russia very interesting, for an old communist regime, I expected it to be more communist than it was. First, there were many fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway and everyone had a phone and the service worked very well.

Russia was one of the cheapest ports I went to, so it was very nice to go in restaurants but not a lot of Russians can speak English. There is a big population of people from Mongolia who came there to work so its very multicultural. You can find restaurants of all kinds.

It was quite cold so if you go there one day, do not forget you warm coat and hat. For my part, I bought a traditional Russian hat made with real fox fur and I can say that it keeps me very warm at night during night watch. I will keep a very good souvenir of Russia.

As we slowly motored out of the port of St. Petersburg, we passed by hundreds of huge housing blocks where hundred of thousands of people lived squished together. Block after block after block, every building looked the same; grey, ugly (personal opinion) and big. It was a huge contrast compared to the super fancy inner city of St. Petersburg where everything was made to look gorgeous and impressive. But because of the high prices in the main city, many inhabitants of St. Petersburg live in those housing blocks built in the time when the USSR still existed.

It was a very important moment for me to see both sides of the super impressive city of St-Petersburg. The city was built to impress other nations of their immense wealth while the actual inhabitants where left outside. We wanted to stay longer to enjoy the culture some more but because Russia was hosting an icebreaker festival, we had to leave.

One of the worlds biggest art collections in the world, located in the inner city of St. Petersburg.
One of the worlds biggest art collections in the world, located in the inner city of St. Petersburg.

As soon as we wanted to set our sails to continue our journey to Estonia, we got news of a big storm with winds up to 70km/h just ahead of us.The crew decided to anchor in the cover of a small island until the storm passed. I remembered the last time, when we were caught in a huge storm, where we didn’t have the luxury of anchoring behind Hog Island, a time were we couldn’t see the horizon because the huge waves blocked our view.

It was the feeling of being truly powerless, the feeling of not being able to do anything, the feeling of being in the hands of nature. It makes me realize where, we as humans, have come from and where we are today, how disconnected from nature we really have become. Nature is not only sunshine and rainbows. No. It also has a destroying part but that is the perfect balance: one has to experience both to really experience nature.

While at anchor, we experienced something magical: snow at sea! It was around 6pm when the watch started to notice little itty bitty snow flakes falling on their noses. The brisk cold combined with the fresh flakes reminded many of Christmas chills that weren’t experienced during the hot Christmas equator crossing. As we all came back from the frosty breezeways, we were welcomed with Frank’s famous seasoned steaks.There were no leftovers. Finally, to wrap up the first day at anchor, most people got to catch up on missed sleep because of anchor watches.

One last sunset in Tallinn before shore leave.
One last sunset in Tallinn before shore leave.

After the storm had passed, 1 day later, we continued our short journey to Estonia. Sadly the winds were not on our side so we had to motor the whole way to Estonia. When we arrived shortly after, we could see the beautiful city Tallinn lightening up the pitch dark night. It was a beautiful view, from the famous TV-tower, where the former citizen fought for their independence, to the newly built skyscrapers that lit up the sky. We were all wanting to go to explore the old medieval city of Tallinn but school had priority so we anchored one last time for a day just in front of the unique city. Before we had shore leave the next day, we could enjoy a beautiful sunset one last time.

Something really cute happened whilst we were in Poland.

Resizedimage600450 Rose Poland Blog 1I will always remember Easter in Poland. We had a ship wide easter egg hunt that morning. Lots of chocolates for everyone, thanks to Joe’s mother. It made us feel a little bit closer to home. Later that day, I had gangway. Now, Gangway in Poland was really wild: we had crowds of people coming up to look at the ship since it was a holiday weekend and people were off. There were many other ships to look at, our home was at the end of the pier. Some people even tried to come aboard. It was intense at times. Usually, Gangway can get pretty boring, but not this time, my buddy and I had people constantly coming up to us asking questions. The best part: the Stanmore speaker was out blaring music from the breezeways. I quickly took over and played my own music for all to hear. The sun was shinning and the weather was warm on a beautiful afternoon. I was barefoot.

Resizedimage600800 Rose Poland Blog 2Some of our students were tossing a football or kicking a soccer ball around on the grass in front of the ship. In High School, I played flag-football for two years, and I haven’t touched a football since. So I picked it up, and some of the girls and I were throwing the football for a few hours. It was great, and they were great too. It was especially great letting out some of that pent up energy from the last few months. We’d been having many long sails until the one to Poland. I don’t think I have done that much exercise since the girl’s basketball game in Senegal. Barefoot in the grass, laughing out of breath because, well, we have no cardio anymore. The music being just right. The smell of the galley wafting up onto the pier. The crowds of happy families. I will always remember that moment.

The next day, as I recall, was the day we went to the Stutthoff concentration camp. This was a port-program that seemed a long time coming. Because this experience was different for all of us, I will refrain from making general comments. The bus ride over was quiet, most of us were sleeping. I know I was reading the Book Club book, one about concentration camps in Poland, Night, Cody’s pick I believe. We kept quiet throughout the introductory videos and the tours, making our way around the camp, to slowly end up back in the bus. No one seemed to be in a rush to be anywhere, for once. The air was heavy. Charged with dialogues we mean to have but rarely do. There really isn’t much more to say, I believe. Once again, however, Class Afloat gave us a first hand experience that equips us for better conversations on the topics of the world. It was a very emotional and educational day. I am glad to have gone through it with this group of people.

In contrast however, I noticed something silly. Our history with bus rides goes back to at least Funchal. The term “Class-A-Coach” was coined in Morocco. I remember how every time someone had to pee, whatever little convenience store was near had a line up going all the way outside, much to the dismay of our tour guides. The same thing happened in Suriname. What can you expect: we love to snack, and it is not all that often that they are so readily available to us. Anyways, as we got on the bus in Poland, our guide happily announced that there would be a rest stop where we can get our snacks. It made me laugh: I suppose our educators learned by now and decided to finally schedule a time in our itinerary solely so we could stock up for the ride back to Gdynia.

While motoring into the city of Copenhagen, we were greeted by one of the largest bridges in the world connecting Malmö, Sweden with Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, not a single cloud in the sky and there was no wind. Even though we were all focusing on studying for the upcoming exams, we tried to enjoy the sun as much as we could. We had mixed feeling about Copenhagen as it was our last port, so everyone wanted to enjoy it in all its colours, however, simultaneously, everyone was stressed out because of the upcoming exams. Cody came up with the brilliant idea of doing our port program in the second oldest amusement park in the world so everyone could enjoy themselves at least for one day.

Hanna & Enric walking back to the Gulden Leeuw through a small but beautiful garden.
Hanna & Enric walking back to the Gulden Leeuw through a small but beautiful garden.

We made fast into the centre of Copenhagen just next to a beautiful little garden. On the other side of the river, we could see a huge and interesting modern structure, the opera house.

Passing by the huge bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark while enjoying the weather.

On the second day in Denmark, it was time for our amazing port program. As we entered the big gates of Tivoli Gardens, we were greeted by a beautiful atmosphere. All of the buildings were made in an antique style. There were huge gardens with thousands of different flowers and plants. The park had many different sections, one was inspired by Arabic architecture, the other by Chinese and European, but they all had one thing in common: they were all beautiful and surrounded with plants. The park would have been worth while just to experience the beauty of the gardens but at the end of the day, we went there for the rides. There was one that brought you up into the skies where one could overlook everything, and since the park was located directly in the city centre, the view was breathtaking.

Peacock chilling in front of an Arabic style building in Tivoli Gardens.
Peacock chilling in front of an Arabic style building in Tivoli Gardens.

There was also this one rollercoaster where one could experience the ride with a virtual reality headset and fight evil along side a traditional Chinese dragon, pretty impressive. And finally, there was the flying planes. You were sitting in a small plane connected to a huge metal arm, which could rotate like a gyroscope, but as if that wasn’t enough, it also accelerated so fast that one experienced more than 5 G’s which means that you get pulled into your seats with a force 5 times grater than our earth’s gravitational field. It was so strong that some of my fellow students couldn’t withstand the pressure and passed out, others just had to throw up afterwards. All in all, it was by far the best port program. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, we all were allowed one free spin at the lottery wheel for a chance of winning a huge chocolate bar. Of course our group won the main prize.

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Our group winning a huge GULD chocolate bar.

On the second last day, we could experience the U.S. COAST GUARD passing by to anchor just ahead of us. The huge and impressive tall ship made our 70 m long ship look like a kid’s toy. As if the beautiful white, blue, red body of the ship wasn’t impressive enough, they put up the biggest USA flag I have ever seen. It was so big, we could have used it as our course sail. On top of that, the ship had red blue and white lights installed to light up the masts during the night, an impressing spectacle.

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U.S. COAST GUARD Flexing with its oversized flag.

On the last day, many people stayed on the boat to study while others continued to explore the city through heavy rain and winds. Most went out for a final diner to celebrate the end of this fantastic year. All the second semester “boys”, including myself, decided to go to a fancy restaurant. After we emptied our bank-accounts in the way of an expensive city, we scraped our last coins together, got a tasty ice cream, and went on an electric scooter ride to experience and enjoy the city one last time in all its beauty. We liked the city so much that we were tempted, really, and I mean, really really tempted, to sneak out in the middle of the night at 2:00am one last time and go for a nice bike ride in the lit up city of Copenhagen, but of course, that would be against the rules, so we decided not to. Copenhagen was a beautiful city and the perfect place for our last port of Class Afloat.

On our way to Poland, Class Afloat as a collective was tired, both student and teacher crew. During the first days of the sail, it felt to me as if we’d lost motivation to do work. Looking back, I realize it was a big change from being in London, one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, to being on the ocean, where the only human contact we had was confined to our ship.

Belize Flag Wooden Sign With Beach Background
Belize Flag wooden sign with beach background

Part of it was also because we enjoyed London so much. It was the first time in a long time that we were in a city that big—the biggest city we’ve visited yet—and it was eye-opening. We enjoyed the luxuries of paying with tap everywhere, and having the wifi to contact family and friends. The abrupt change of having those luxuries to boat life was also why the general mood was so low. However, students and crew who loved to sail found that they were ready to be at sea again, because they felt that ports were too hectic. Those optimistic sailors kept the boat running during those first days, even though we were motoring for the most part as the wind was against us.

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girl sitting

Some of us caught bad colds in London, even stomach flues, and were tortured with that for a good portion of the sail. I felt lucky as we sailed away that I was healthy, and felt sympathy for those who were coughing their hearts out. That night, however, my sympathy quickly turned to empathy. I noticed a little nauseous monster trying to intrude on my sleep. I tried to shake it off, but it was still there when I woke up for watch. I was on the verge of puking, but after night snack, the little monster somehow went away. The chocolate cookies must have been really scary. Many Floaties weren’t as lucky as me, for their sicknesses persisted all the way to Poland.

On day three of the sail, we found out we were anchoring for the night. I thought it was because we were going too fast. It was a total surprise to hear that we were going to Kiel the next day! With that, our first surprise port of the semester, the gloom was lifted from the ship, and the mess buzzed with excitement once again. Students scattered to get their work done on time for port, and teachers did the same. Even though we would only be in Kiel for a few hours, it was enough motivation. The excitement of the surprise bonded us, and that day, we felt like a true community.

In Kiel, as we piled off the ship, a familiar bearded face greeted us. It was Sammy! Our former AB from first semester. Running to greet him, the first semester students could barely contain our excitement. Even more so, we were glad to see our favourite bromance, —Sammy and Adrian—reunite.

On day four, as we sailed away from Germany, everything felt normal. It felt like the beginning of the year sails again, when students were excited to start new sails. The normality, however, was disturbed by an announce calling for Nick, our beloved Greenhand. The Captain announced on the loudspeaker in a peculiar tone: “Nick, please report to the bridge, or else bad things will happen.” Many of us didn’t think much of this, because people were called to the bridge all the time. Sometime later, I realised that I could see land again. In fact, we were back in Kiel! Confused, I went outside, and there stood Nick, exactly where we left him.

Floaties ran outside to greet him, laughing harder the closer we got, as we could see the pained embarrassment on his face. Curious spectators of Kiel gathered around on dock to see our majestic home dock. We slowly motored toward shore, and as soon as Nick stepped onboard, we motored out. It was the most cinematic moment of my life. It was hilarious. With that, we knew that it was going to be a good time for the remainder of our sail to Poland. Accompanied by brilliant sunsets and calm winds, it was indeed.

With our food stores diminished after 18 days at sea, we passed through the locks and under bridges into London where we left in the masses to explore. We arrived on the 6th of March, gaining an extra day of freedom on the town. That evening was spent eating delicious food and, as always, buying snacks to be eaten immediately.

The 7th was an extra exciting day for the ship, because of the long awaited return of Stephanie who had taken a leave of absence due to a playground accident. Alice, Ingrid and I accompanied Brie to pick her up at the airport. On the Tube ride we decorated welcome home signs with nautical themed drawings to hold up at the airport. After joyful greetings we headed back to the Vessel, Alice and I lugging Steph’s huge sea bag weighing over 50lbs.

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Though all of our stay in London was wonderful, my favorite day was the 10th. This was for a couple reasons but the biggest was seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The day was much warmer and sunnier then it had been so far, which helped put us all in a good mood. We were also very excited about the play. We started out by spending a little more time than usual on our appearance. We all had on some Harry Potter clothing, and I was in my new long wool coat I got from the thrift store (which is the coolest article of clothing I own). We went straight to platform 9 and 3/4 so Julia could get a picture going through the barrier.

The platform was packed with muggles and new witches and wizards going to Hogwarts or buying their supplies for the school year. After watching several muggles attempt to enter the platform, we headed to quench our thirst at Twinnings tea emporium. The smell of the shop was mouthwatering and caused us all great longing for a nice cuppa hot tea. The walls were lined with boxes of tea and tins of biscuits. There were golden mugs and beautifully coloured tins. Directly outside the shop standing like a silent sentinel was the oldest statue in London: the Temple Bar dragon who guards the city gates! At this point we had to hurry to the theatre to pick up our tickets and get a bite to eat before the show started.

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This was another reason it was my favourite day, we got sushi for half price and were able to eat it on the steps while watching the locals go about their business. And then finally it was time! All day my excitement had been growing and now it was overflowing, especially when we arrived at the theatre. Over the door there was a huge sculpture of a boy in a black nest with raven’s wings on it. Inside the theatre the architecture and decorations were very impressive. There were carvings of cherubs and gold plating on all the banisters.

Julia and I were seated in the balcony, and from our seats we had a clear view of the whole stage. Now I was giddy with anticipation for the play to start. And it finally did and for the next 6 hours I was on the edge of my seat. I loved everything about the play! The music is one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard, good enough to rival that of Lord of the Rings. The special effects looked just like real magic and made me feel like I was at Hogwarts in the thick of it all. And of course it wouldn’t be as good without the fabulous actors all of which did an amazing job with their characters. When the play ended I was in raptures of delight which only got bigger when we were able to meet and get signatures from the cast.

London was definitely one of my favourite ports and I can see myself living there for some time later in my life. The ease of travel and the attitude of the locals made me feel welcomed to the city. That with the culture of the arts gave me quite a lot to see and do. I also really like tea and digestive biscuits.

Written by Class Afloat Student Mairead O.

The boat was slowly making is way in the river, getting closer every minute to the mythical city of London. The dry cold of the English Channel and cloudy weather of the United Kingdom made us even more eager to arrive to destination. Different docks and even bridges opened up for us. We finally docked inside London. What could have been better?

Having five days to visit a place filled with art, culture, history and good food by ourselves was making everybody incredibly happy. It is so cool to be able to travel with your friends, especially in a place with so many options and opportunities opened to us. We can go out to the movies, Harry Potter fans can watch the famous play The Cursed Child, or we can simply roam around in the street where the great people of this world walked.

The streets were crowded with thousands of people from all over the world; politicians, workers, students, and tourists. I could hear many different languages like German, French, Mandarin, and Polish. This great diversity, characteristic of London, pleased us especially because of the amazing food. In Chinatown, I enjoyed a good dish of fried noodles. I did not dislike the fact that London is known for having the best Indian Food in the world either. Moreover, I drank as much coffee as I could. I really missed good coffee on the boat and the smell of fresh coffee is my favourite smell in the world.

While visiting the British Museum, I got amazed thinking of all the history behind each artefact. I saw Egyptian statues that were built thousands of years ago by great Pharaohs and a three meters long painting filled with meticulous details. I continued walking and saw hundreds of art pieces, statues, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and watercolours. The best part in all of this was that it represented only a small portion of London’s art collection. I could still spend days in that museum, and admire and understand new things. Just a corner away from the British Museum, I entered a small art gallery founded in the late 1930’s. This old apartment building was filled with bright light and diverse art styles such as impressionist paintings and watercolours. There was one particular art piece that stood out to me. This painting portrayed a grey, stormy sea with a small sail boat heeling dangerously. Because of this year of sailing and going through all these storms and hard weather, I could not only see the painting, I could feel it.

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A Flourishing Tree.

I also visited the famous Camden market. It is an old stable turned into a huge market filled with cafes, food trucks, thrift shops, and bookstores. Basically, everything I like reunited in one place. I lost myself in the small alleys, meeting friendly store owners. I even discovered a small tea shop hidden in the back of a cute second-hand bookstore. The small room was filled with colourful vintage sofas, old paintings and pictures, and ancient wooden tables. I was served a scone with the traditional cream and jam with a cup of English tea in an old porcelain tea cup. In addition, during that day, the sun had decided to finally come out! A sunny day in London just for us! We laid down lazily in parks around London. The flowers were starting to come out. Just lying on the solid ground after weeks at sea was a treat in itself.

I think that what I liked the most of this city is that you don’t even have to enter a museum to learn. While wandering around in the city, I admired the 16th century architecture of a beautiful cathedral and an apartment building built during the art deco movement. Then, I saw a huge ultra-modern skyscraper. A few buildings away there was an old distinguish tea shop. With a bunch of friends, we walked along side of the Canal admiring both sides. I remember all the movies and TV shows like Harry Potter or Love Actually that took place in London. I remember how envious I was to walk in this beautiful city.

I did, as a good tourist, go see the Buckingham Palace to give my respect to the Queen. I admired the famous guards with their funny hats walking back and forth endlessly. It seemed really strange from my perspective. They just spend all day seeing thousands and thousands of tourists taking pictures of them all day long, fascinated.

To London, I am not saying good-bye but see you later. We shall meet again.

On September 4th, when students came to the wharf in Amsterdam and they could finally have their first glimpse at the tall ship they would be living on for the upcoming months, the three tall masts took the breath away from the future Floaties. When will the moment come for them to finally reach the top gallant, 40 meters above the deck? For some of us more adventurous students, this thrill was a story of the past only few days after the official departure; for others, the challenge is still alive today.

Above all, reaching the summit is a special moment for anyone having the nerves to climb all the way up. For me, after few attempts to the course, then to the lower top sail – just half way to the top gallant – I strived for the peak of the Gulden Leeuw on a sunny day of the first Atlantic crossing.

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One of the students making their way up to the platform. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know from this point of view if happiness or fear – or a right mix of both – can be seen on this person’s face climbing up to the sky.

When I woke up on December 12th, I knew that day would be a great day. Maybe it had something to do with the cheerful music the galley team had put for regular wake-up, the full night of rest I had just had, the AC in the dorms finally working against the humidity of the equator, or a sudden change in this atmospheric pressure, who knows. Only, my pinky was telling me that it would be a formidable day on the ocean. Just when I was heading for my breakfast, I heard the rumour from the watch: we would see the Brazilian land today; the Atlantic crossing had come to an end. On that positive note, I went to watch as the sun was already hot, and the breeze was comfortable, the swell was in a rhythmic dance with the hull of our boat, and the ocean was bluer than ever.

On the bridge, Shaila was waiting for us with a list full of projects for the day. First things first, we had to prepare our arrival in Fernando by furling all of the square sails, beginning with the top gallant. It was my chance: today was the day I would accomplish this challenge I had been dealing with since Amsterdam. Before Shaila could even finish her sentence, I was putting my harness on, ready to go aloft. I jumped on the occasion and, with Samantha, we hopped on the foremast’s ladder, beginning to climb to reach the summit.

I was confident; in general, I am not scared of heights. I am simply uncomfortable. However, I knew I could depend on this ladder as much as I could on an old friend. It is steady, wide enough, and I knew I could rely on these three stays running from the deck to the course platform. Even though I was not the fastest to climb up, I still reached this mid-way point easily. Yet, the hardest part was still coming up. The next ladder leading directly to the top gallant is not as friendly. It is made of rope that seems to be there since the ship was built, has some random wood steps – probably where the line tore –is way less steady, and you can barely fit both your feet reaching the top of it. This wobbly ladder was dancing and twisting from left to right as the boat was fighting the waves. My heart started beating harder into my chest, my hands were holding on so tight that my nails were printed into my skin, and my fear reached the summit way before I did.

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The distinct silhouette of Fernando taken from our boat at anchor. Fernando’s beauty and serenity were welcomed after a long Atlantic crossing where we had reached the summit of ourselves.

Step after step, I was holding in tears and sticking to the little energy, courage, and confidence I had left to climb those last meters. I would not go down after all the progress I had made, not today. I finally reached the summit, not only after an extensive and exhausting ascension, but after a 4-month trip sailing the oceans of the world under these yards. Of course, I clipped in as soon as I got to the yard. After a few deep breaths and a glimpse at the view from the highest point of the ship, I started furling the sail with Samantha. During an hour, we prepared the top-gallant for our arrival in port. Just before heading down, which seemed as scary – if not more – than going up, we saw a blue silhouette lying on the horizon: Fernando! The feeling of seeing land after a fifteen-day sail crossing the ocean is indescribable. We were cheerful; There was no doubt we were the first ones to see land.

When I finally stepped onto deck, covered in bruises, trembling, out of breath, dizzy, and more tired than I have ever been, my heart was filled with pride. I remember that I could not stop smiling, that feeling inside me was delightful. As we were doing the handover at the end of my watch, a few dolphins appeared on port side. They were jumping, dancing, and swimming in the water, a little bit like my mind in happiness. My eyes were wet once again, but this time they were filled with gaiety and bliss; I knew this day would be exceptional.

The first thing most people think of when I tell them I’m sailing around the world on a tall ship is “Oh what a great adventure” or “you’re so brave to be doing this without knowing anyone beforehand”. Yes, this is all true, but no one really thinks about the bond or community that the whole crew shares; nobody would understand this except for the people who have been in the same situation.

When we are sailing in the middle of the Atlantic on the Gulden Leeuw, we are together 24/7, and it’s hard to have a time when you are by yourself. I started to become really close with some of the people on board. Everyone sleeps in really tight quarters; the aisles between the bunks are around two or two and half feet apart. This makes us get to know each other really well.

When we go to port though, it’s different. In port we go off in groups of four. I went out with Alice, Anastasia, Mairead, and Julia exploring the city of Horta, Failal. The first day in port I went to the beach; the sand and water was cold, but refreshing. The breeze smelled of salty ocean water. The sea was a light marine blue. I only got to experience this with three other people instead of fifty-nine other people. Once I got back to the ship it was like coming home; everyone shared what they did that day and suggests where to go and what to do.

After being in port for three days, I went hiking with a group doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award. The Duke of Edinburgh is an award that anyone can receive. This award is mostly worked on in the Commonwealth countries. One of the parts you need to do to receive the award is to plan and do an adventurous journey. My journey was hiking Mount Pico and camping on the island of Pico. I was really slow because the terrain was really steep and had a lot of loose rock. The air was cool, fresh, and clean. The reason why it was so steep was because we were climbing up a mountain called Mount Pico, which is the tallest mountain in Portugal and an inactive volcano.

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This is the view above the clouds from on top of the mountain. In the distance is the city of Horta below the clouds across the water. It was bright and sunny up high.

The rocks on Pico were really rough and a dark greyish black. I was sweating so much because of the heavy bag I had on my back. The bag also slowed me down a lot. As we hiked up the mountain, we passed through a cloud, which got me a little damp. Everyone in our group had to break into smaller groups. I was in the last and slowest group. It was okay because I got to hang out with Emma and Lloyd, one of the teachers on board. Not only did I get to know Emma better as well, but she really encouraged me to climb higher and do more. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the summit but I felt a strong sense of friendship, understanding, and motivation.

After our Duke of Edinburgh camping trip; I went off with some friends and went around town one last time before leaving; walking into stores and spending most of our time in Peter’s Café. On the way back to the ship, the kids on the German ship offered us a tour of their ship. The German ship was also a sail training vessel for kids in grade 11 and they were in port at the same time as us. I find that there is a community not only within our own ship community, but also within the sailing community.

I was so amazed at how similarly the Gulden Leeuw and the Thor Heyerdral are run. It was also really different in a way. The German students have classes every other day and we have classes every day. A lot of the Class Afloat students connected with the other students on the German Class. Anastasia and I connected with the students on the “Thor Heyerdral” because we are doing some of the same things they are doing and we understand what they’re going through and the vocabulary they use to describe their ship. Thor Heyerdral is entirely made out of wood. This is what I’ll remember the most. I feel a real sense of community and family here; this is something that will always be irreplaceable to me.

Featured image: These are the friends I went hiking with on top of Mount Pico for the Duke of Edinburgh hike; This is near the summit. From left to right (Aiga, Alice, Ingrid, Myriam and in the middle at the bottom is Faren)

We successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the second time and arrived in London! We arrived two days early at Canary Wharf, so we had one school day with an evening of shore leave and a full day of shore leave extra. All of the students were very excited to have one more day of shore leave to explore the city.

On our first day, many took the tube, the underground, to the center of London. With my specific group, we walked around Westminster, and saw Big Ben and the eye of London. Then we found ourselves in Greenpark next to the Buckingham Palace. We arrived just in time to see the changing of guards, which was very impressive. The ceremony started with the King’s Guard’s Orchestra leading the way across the Royal Mall road to St. James Palace. They were then followed by Kings’ Guards on horses, on bicycle, and on foot while holding machine guns in their hands.

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Picture of the gates of Buckingham palace on the first day of the port. You can see the detailed put into the Lion and the Unicorn on the symbol itself.

Picture of the gates of Buckingham palace on the first day of the port. You can see the detailed put into the Lion and the Unicorn on the symbol itself.

The guards were dressed in a red uniform and fluffy hats, while the officers wore fancier uniforms with pins, broches, and patches all over them. As they marched on, the crowd was getting bigger and bigger and the guards were now being watched by hundreds of people. When they arrived, the King’s Guards holding the machine guns changed places with the other ones. The music of the trumpets and drums were loud, as was the crowd, as they finished the ceremony. When the song ended, the people became silent as the guards went into the building and the crowd began to return to their normal Sunday afternoon.

The next day was our port program, which was a scavenger hunt around the city. All the students divided themselves into 16 different groups. Every single group had a list of 80 places, things or actions to do in the city. So, our shipboard director gave us an unlimited Oyster card (giving us access to all forms of public transportation) for the day and a curfew for the hunt, and we were off. With my team, we first went to Mayfair where we found the number 1 phone box and the Piccadilly Royal Academy. We then continued walking around and saw a street dancer and because one of our tasks was to interact with street entertainers, we started dancing with him. People kept stopping and watching us having fun and not caring about what everyone else was thinking. After 3 minutes of dancing with the guy, we had accumulated a big crowd of people that were joining in, and it became a big party, the highlight of my day.

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The statue in the middle of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Portrait Museum. You can also see on the side the view of a double red bus, typical of London.

The statue in the middle of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Portrait Museum. You can also see on the side the view of a double red bus, typical of London.

Afterwards, we went to Covent Market where we walked through stands filled with the most random things such as jewellery to food, forks to postcards, and knives to wooden boxes. As our last stop, we went to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Museum. We then left the square to go to the eye of London for the end of our scavenger hunt, where one of our first semester student, Thomas Steip was waiting for us. We met up with some of the other students and went out with him to Chinatown, bought some fortune cookies, and ate them all in a typical red double bus. A great day for the books.

On our other port program day, we volunteered at the Canal and River Trust Organisation whose goal it is to maintain the dock and also the environment of the whole area of Canary Wharf. We helped them rust bust, paint old fences, and sand bollards off the dock area.

This port was important for some of the students because their family members were there. Alumni students came to visit the boat and we had an open house. People saw many shows including The Cursed Child, Mamma Mia, Women in Black, Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, and even Drake! Also because of those shows, we had a curfew of 12 AM, which many of the student crew enjoyed because we wouldn’t have to worry about being late or missing anything that was at night.

Hamilton, Bermuda was the port people were looking forward to most this second semester. Everyone was so excited to see his or her parents after sailing for one month. After ten days of sailing from Havana, we were finally entering Hamilton. Every single student had a position to make the entrance more exciting. As we entered, you could see the large group of parents waving and screaming at their children.

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For the entrance there were maximum two people in each side of the square sail. They needed to line up with the person that was on top for it to look organized. Everyone was in their Class Afloat uniform ready to receive his or her parents.

When we finally docked, students got off the boat to greet their parents. Megan talked to all of us for about ten minutes before letting us go out as a family to explore Hamilton. For the evening, Class Afloat reserved a soccer field for our parents and us to play for ninety minutes. Parents had fun with their children and it was a great way to get to know the others. Also, at the port presentation before arriving to Bermuda, they recommended that we go to the beaches. The main reason they told us to go to the beaches is because there, you can find pink sand and sea glass beaches! Not in many places you can find this types of beaches.

Natalia Bermuda

“Horseshoe Bay” is one of the most recognized beaches in Bermuda since it is the third most instagrammed beach in the whole world! The beautiful view of the ocean with clear sand and big rocks was more enjoyable with less people around.

This is Gibb’s Lighthouse, about twenty minutes away from Hamilton. The location of the lighthouse is perfect to see Bermuda from a highpoint.

Since we were with our parents, transportation was much easier. A plan many of the families had was to go to “Dockyard”. It was a thirty-minute ride and on the way there were many places you could stop by such as lighthouses, beaches, secret beaches, and view points. The ride there was really nice, the road was right by the ocean you could see many different boats and all the houses were painted in pastel colors.

Just before getting to Dockyard there was this small beach. Surrounded by trees and rocks, a perfect place to relax.

Dockyard is a place for most of the boats in Bermuda. Around, you can find many good restaurants. One thing about Bermuda is that they eat a lot of fish; each day they had “the fish of the day”. The day I went there the fish of the day was Rockfish. I ordered in a restaurant that had the form of a boat and it came with beans on the side; it was really tasty. At Dockyard you could also find a marine place were you went to see the dolphins behind a glass. Lastly, they were a couple of museums around but the one I found more interesting was a museum full of forms of transportation from the past. You had to pay five dollars to enter, if you are interested in that kind of stuff, it is worth it!

This is the mall located in the middle of Dockyard called “Clock Tower Mall”. Inside they were many locals that sell souvenirs, ice cream and other goods. It’s bigger than it looks!

Everything closed really early so as we got back to Hamilton exhausted, we enjoyed once more the beautiful view. The day was almost over and it was time to say good night to our parents and go have a good sleep to be ready to explore more tomorrow.

After a 14 day sail and 2 days of anchor, the small community of our magnificent vessel was impatient to discover the Azores. Many of the students went to the grocery store to replenish their empty snack bag. The nights on board are getting cooler, so I bought a cozy blanket. The second evening, I packed provisions for the expedition planned the next day. I woke up early and after a good breakfast with a glass of fresh creamy milk from a farm nearby, our group of 14 trainees made our way to the ferry.

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After a three hours hike, a group of students from Class Afloat made it to the top of the 2351 meter high volcano.

We arrived thirty minutes later to the lovely island of Pico. We discovered the gorgeous landscape of the island as the taxi took us to the bottom of the highest mountain of Portugal, Mount Pico. I felt like if I was transported in the British grassland with the contrast of the bright green lawn and cloudy grey sky. Some small walls made of volcanic rocks divided the lands into equal sections. We could see the shapes of the countless cows in the horizon. In fact, the island hosts three times more cows than the number of habitants. We started the hike determined to accomplish our goal of reaching the top of the volcano. As we climbed, the temperature got warmer and when we passed the clouds, the sun started to burn our delicate skin. Unfortunately, nobody had sunscreen and we all ended up with tomato red faces. At twelve, we made it to the top and were rewarded by a delicious meal and a breathtaking view. There was even some snow at the top of the active volcano and we made a snowman. We came down and got steaming cups of hot chocolate in a small cafe near the ferry.

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Some friends and I posing with the adorable baby cows and the pieces of cheese we bought.

The fourth day, we started our day with provisions. We met the new cook’s mate, Carrie, and organized all the fresh food for the next sail. We finished for lunch and Cody ordered pizza with a thick layer of melted cheese. After everyone was allowed to go, I made my way to one of the five cheese factories on the island with Julia, Mairead, and Felicity. We had the chance to taste many samples of the dairy product. That cheese was the tastiest I’ve ever had. I was pleased to be informed that the island would soon start exporting their products to Canada. We were able to look around the factory and ended with the best part: the baby cows. We all fell for those adorable three-weeks-old babies. Some of them were playing around and others were sleeping in the grass. We took some pictures with our new friends and Julia even had the chance to pet one. The view from the cheese factory was beautiful. We could see the ocean and even Mount Pico that we had climbed the day before.

After our photo-shoot with the cows, we decided to stop at Peter Sports Cafe, a restaurant near the port where most of the sailors go for a drink or to eat a good dinner. We took a table and ordered a nice meal. The place had a cozy ambience and some good music. It was decorated with flags and stickers from countries of every continent. I ordered shrimp with creamy pasta and garlic bread. After a long time at sea, it’s always pleasant to get some good food with friends. For dessert we had a great variety of choices like chocolate cake, apple pie, Pastel de nata, and many more.

We then went to the shop of the restaurant and got a nice shirt like the majority of the Gulden Leeuw trainees. Finally, I stopped at the best ice cream place called Gelados do Atlántico Açores that was sadly closed the first three days of our stay. There, I ordered a waffle with decadent ice cream.

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Our new crew member and classmate, Cor, at helm for the first time. We were passing through a huge patch of sargassum seaweed, where we often catch large fish.

Excitement for Season 2 of Class Afloat was shown with cheek-to-cheek smiles and many hugs, as if it had been months since we had seen each other. Everybody seemed refreshed from their time spent at home and ready to live countless more amazing experiences together.

(I write this as we sail swiftly towards Dominica, shamefully finger-scooping peanut butter into my mouth as we do here on the Gulden Leeuw.)

The Gulden Leeuw didn’t change while we were gone (although it did seem considerably cleaner). One change however was the lack of many students from semester 1 and the addition of new students and crew to our community. This considerably shifted the dynamic. We all miss those who have left us and it’s definitely not the same without them. Surely we will see them again soon. While it was strange at first to have new crew members and students living with us, soon enough the newcomers became more comfortable and we’re quickly learning that each and every one of them is bringing something great to our seafaring community. I’m impressed about how much they’ve learned already in so little time. They bravely climbed aloft, enjoying their first birds-eyed view of their new welcoming home and participated actively in our departure sail setting.

New watches are even stranger than I had imagined. I couldn’t be happier with both my day and night watches, yet Watch 6 was my family within a family for 4 months. Lulu commented that although everyone in watch 2 (my new watch) are all friends, it feels awkward because we have never been in a watch situation together before. Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll get used to it in no time.

Season 2 of Class Afloat
Marilyn struggling to open the curtain as she kindly brings our banana peels to the food waste bin.

I can’t wait for my new classes. Teachers came prepared and enthused about the curriculum they will be teaching us. Actually, maybe “teaching us” isn’t the right term. I prefer saying that they’re guiding our learning. Siobhàn once said, “We are all teachers and we are all students.” On Class Afloat, the teacher-student dynamic is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Teachers will spend time with us joking around and talking. After all, they have to be pretty cool people to come on Class Afloat. Sorry, I digress. All in all, my classes are interesting and I’m excited!

I was surprised in the most amazing way on departure day. Our old Second Officer, Adriaan, was on a tall ship anchored beside us called The Tres Hombres. On watch, we noticed a beautiful, elegant, bearded man tendering towards our ship. It was none other than Adriaan himself. We were all incredibly happy to see him again and are looking forward to when he will be joining us again in Bermuda. As if that wasn’t enough, Hanna’s parent’s catamaran motored by with Sophie and Colin, our departing greenhand and cook’s mate standing proudly on the deck! We’re so lucky for our amazing crew this year. We’ll miss Sophie’s contagious laugh and Colin’s lack of t-shirts. It was great to see them again. Soon enough, the Gulden Leeuw raised anchor, caught steady winds in our sails and set off towards Dominica.

During our visit in the Dominican Republic we worked with the Foundation Mahatma Ghandi. Mahatama Ghandi is a community volunteer Organization. The organization is called Mahatma Gandhi because they follow Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of self empowerment, leadership, justice, equality and peace. We spent three days in a community around Las Terranas painting houses, building playgrounds and integrating with the locals.

On our first day we spent hours fighting bedbugs, making sure that our sea chests were empty and all our clothes labelled before being mixed up with other people’s clothes in the laundry. When we finally got off the boat it was raining, and I was really tired. I felt like just going to bed, but I made the effort to move my feet towards the big bus waiting for us just outside the port. I fell asleep on the bus and suddenly the bus came to a halt: we had arrived! We got dropped off at a restaurant where food was all prepared for us.

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This is one of the houses that we painted. We were not able to reach half of the roof! so only half of the roof is painted blue. When the girls and I saw the house that we had painted from this angle we couldn’t stop laughing, it was clearly not professional but the lady in the house seemed happy with our work.

Students rushed to grab plates. We could not take our eyes off all the food in the big buffet. After eating a lovely meal, Jose the founder of Mahatma Gandhi gave us a speech about the work we would be doing the next couple of days in the different communities. After his speech we set off on a hike to a waterfall, which is the second most visited tourist destination in Dominican Republic. After some time, we could hear the water spray. When we saw the waterfall we were astonished by how big and beautiful it was.

Some students went for a swim in the cool pool of emerald green water at the bottom of the waterfall. When we were done taking pictures and swimming, we hiked to a view point where we had a picture perfect view of the waterfall with green lush mountain tops all around and the sun setting in the horizon. The view was beautiful!

We now had to hike down and it was getting dark! On the way, we met many obstacles such as muddy paths and rivers that we had to cross blind as bats, something was bound to happen. Some boys took the initiative to carry people across the river. I got a piggy back ride across the river and as I thought it was all good, we were told to wait because Emma had fallen on the way and had sprained her ankle. Cody ran to get help and somehow he managed to find a horse. We were all waiting in the dark, hungry and concerned, when suddenly Emma appeared behind us riding the horse. We all cheered when she came riding into the crowd!

After all that excitement we went to have pizza at the beach in Las Terrenas. We were all hungry so we were happy to have a whole pizza of our choice. I had the vegetarian pizza and it was really good. After pizza, we met our hosts for our home stays and then we headed out in small groups to the different villages. My group went to the village Barbacoa, and we were about 7 girls and Ms. Siobhan.

The next day in the morning we had breakfast at a local little place called Picapollo Comedor. We had bananas, papaya, toast with ham and cheese, and juice. After breakfast, we set off to paint peoples’ houses. When painting, the locals helped out as well so we got the job done very fast. When we were done painting we had lunch at Picapollo Comedor and then Maria Victoria (the person who was in charge of us) took us to the beach. The beach was beautiful, with crystal clear water shimmering in the sun and a long coastline with fine sand. It was nice to swim, especially after sweating so much that it felt like I had just taken a bucket shower! After swimming, Maria Victoria gave us snacks to eat and the founder/president of the organization drove us back.

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This is a picture of the kids from the community playing on the sea saws that we made and painted together.

When we got back, we changed out of our soaking wet swim suits and then we went for dinner. After dinner, Siobhan invited us for ice cream at a little local place. The lady at the shop gave us several big scoops of her pink strawberry ice cream in large cups. While eating our big cups of pink ice cream we went to the basketball court where we played basketball with some boys from the village. We were not very good compared to them but we still gave it our best shot, and it was so much of fun! I could not stop laughing! People were watching us and cheered every time one of us scored or when one of the boys did a really good move. It is definitely one of the most memorable experiences from our stay in the community. I enjoyed just hanging out with the local kids which were around our age.

On the last day, we had breakfast at Picapollo Comedor, the little local place where we had been eating every day, and then we went to the basketball court to help build a play ground. We painted together with the local kids. When we were done painting we had different colours of paint all over us. We helped each other to get clean with paint thinner but some of it we just couldn’t get rid of. When we were done with the playground, we went to our rooms to relax before going back to the playground for a dinner-party to celebrate the work that had been done.

A lot of people from Class Afloat joined us and all the kids we had worked with came as well. We had some traditional food; we ate rice, soup, potato and fish. For drinks we had coconuts which we opened after drinking them to eat the meat as a desert; it was all super tasty. After eating we danced some bachata and it was a lot of fun. I tried to move my hips like you are supposed to, but I was nowhere close to being as good as the locals. I felt like a robot.

I spent the rest of the night talking to the kids using sign language that I made up and saying some Spanish words in between simple English sentences. I used a lot of sí, no and no lo sé. I wish I knew a bit more Spanish.

I think it is cool that the kids built their own playground and it is impressive how the whole community came together. All the kids came as well to make this project happen. However, a lot of the time I found myself looking at people doing work while eating a lollipop. I wanted to be helpful but they did the jobs so much better and in the end it is their playground, not mine. However, I did get a lot out of spending time in a community and getting to know the people there, and I really enjoyed playing basketball with the boys and dancing bachata with my friends and the little kids.

The next morning we said goodbye to all the kind welcoming people that we had met during our stay in the village and then we headed off to town where we meet the others. Together we had a big traditional lunch and then we had some shore leave where some went to the beach whilst others went to go get ice cream. I had really good hazelnut and cherry ice cream. It was nice to end the trip with a good cold ice cream next to the beach.

Cuba… May I ask, what are the first things that come to your mind when you hear “Cuba”? Most likely, it is probable that you are picturing long stretching eternal beaches and a forever shining sun like I did before my journey here in Cuba. Of course, I did believe that Cuba had more than just these features, but what I saw here swept me off my feet. Yes, it has all these things, but so much more…

When I first stepped foot in Havana on January 14th, I cannot deny the fact that I was quite surprised. The first thing that struck me was the architecture of the city which took my breath away. I was surprised by the beauty of the buildings that were still standing after everything the country has seen.

Through its colonization by Spain, its role in the African slave importation, its independence, its impressive technological development, its Revolution and much more, Cuba has been influenced by various foreign cultures and has built its magic around it. The details present in the architecture and the different colours of each structure incorporate the rich heritage of a diverse population now unified. It was absolutely beautiful.

On our first day, we jumped into buses and went on a tour organized by the government to learn more about Cuba. What the tour guide was saying was informative, but we could barely pay any attention as we were captivated by the landscapes, the people walking in the streets, and the rhythm of life there. After the tour, we had the opportunity to go explore Havana by ourselves. Most of us walked around trying to open our eyes as wide as possible as if we believed that we could see more by doing that. It was captivating. It seemed like the people there were walking at a unique pace, at their own rhythm. I went to bed with the feeling I had learned so much about this distinct country only by observing the people.

The next morning, most of us woke up around eight o’clock and breakfast was served across the street in a little restaurant. There, there was a piano, and many talented students played lovely melodies throughout breakfast. After, an optional tour was available and I took part in it. Honestly, this was the best tour of my life! The activity was led by an economist and there we learned about the Revolution, about how people live their lives under a communist government, and about everything that concerns the every day of a typical Cuban.

My whole perspective about Cuba shifted. I feel like what I know now about Havana is very little and yet, it is enough for me to realize how uninformed I was . There is so much more than just sandy beaches, shining sun, and salsa music! In fact, this place is beautiful because of all these things but fundamentally, because all the people work together for the better, to build their communities: there is an essence, a fire, a sustainable energy that propels, that keeps on progressing, and that expands their culture.

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Let’s look at music for example! It happens, sometimes, that we believe we know something but in reality, the knowledge we possess represents a tiny fraction of the thing itself. In the past, I have heard many South American artists and multiple songs reflecting Cuba’s traditional music, but what I heard here in Cuba, what I felt, was nothing that I’ve experienced before. Musicians were releasing their magic everywhere, bringing light and joy to every being. It was heart-lifting. The energy here, the very aliveness of Havana is like the wind, something that cannot be seen but can only be felt, and we felt it.

My friends and I really wanted to experience the life of Cuban through music. On our last night in Havana, we made it our mission to dance to every melody we could hear, wandering with excitement in the streets. We must have burst into more than a dozen different places: restaurants, live music areas in the streets, and dance scenes! I felt like I was part of the people there. Us four girls would enter a restaurant and grab a person by the arm that was sitting to bring them to dance. We laughed so much! And the people there too! They were surprised and the musicians seemed to play with even more intensity. Every heart was filled with joy and that is what Cuba is about: spontaneity, courage, colour, music, happiness. That night was one of the best nights of my life and we shall forever remember it.

The next day, I woke up at 6 o’clock to watch the last sunrise in Cuba for this voyage. The sky was a bright red-orange colour, old Havana stretched in front of me in its beauty and from the seventh floor of our apartment building, I could see, slowly, the entire city waking up. The day went by so fast and little did I know, I was back on the ship saying my goodbyes to this inspiring, amazing, and up-lifting country.

In the end, Cuba made many of us realize how easy it is to be guided or influenced by preconceived thoughts when entering a new place. This country has so much more to offer than what we are told and I believe, the only way to overcome that barrier is to go out there, to observe, to experience, to jump in, to be guided, to be open, and to learn. The best way to discover this place, Havana, or any place, is to put aside everything you though you knew and to simply live in the moment. In the end, if there’s anything that I would encourage anybody to do while traveling would be to just see it!

After a wonderful homestay in Dominican Republic, I had to come back to my good old ship, the Gulden Leeuw. While some of us were urging to come back to the ship, I was focusing on the gigantic pile of clean clothes that was waiting to get sorted out. After a couple minutes of procrastination, I pulled my sleeves up and with the help of other floaties, we began our mission. Following several hours of dedicated work, the big pile of clothing was now resting as a small puzzle of socks and underwear. At the end of this unfortunate event, we could finally set sails in direction to Cuba.

What first started rough, soon enough became a smooth and relaxing sail. First of all, the ocean was extremely generous with us. Joseph and captain Robert had the opportunity to catch more mahi-mahi and tuna than in the past three sails combined. Even for a guy from the Cayman Islands, Joe confirmed that his most recent catch was the biggest one he had ever seen in his life! More than 18kg of fresh mahi-mahi taken right from the open market of the Atlantic Ocean. This gave us a taste of what amazing sea creatures we would be admiring for the next week.

Shortly after our blessed fishing, the captain and I had the chance to spot more than a dozen whales who were playing with the small waves created by the Gulden Leuww. Luckily for us, the wind was in our favour, blowing smoothly at our backs, making it another memorable week in the Caribbean.

Img 5055 10Only after a couple of days, some of us were already missing land. Not actually missing the land, but more like missing old habits, routines or favourite meals. Can we just all agree that there’s nothing like eating a meal you have been craving for weeks? A simple Fanta would put a smile on anybody’s face at this point.

Having seven days makes this the longest sail for our new floaties. Although we are staying positive about the Atlantic crossing, the maritime crew aren’t hiding the fact that it is going to be a great challenge for us. As a matter of fact, I feel remarkably positive about this crossing because of the great start we just had. Our next stop will be Bermuda where most of us, even teachers and crew, will have the opportunity to see our relatives one last time before another we go away for another three months.

Even if it’s a harsh thing to say, I have to admit that I am enjoying myself way too much to be missing home right now. If you think about it, we are sixty students and eighteen crew who are all traveling around the world. How can that be hard? Am I not right? Well it’s by looking at the bright side of things that we quickly forget about our daily chores, since in the end, it’s not all that bad. Doing cleaning stations, rust busting, painting, and sanding are all things that make us more competent at the end of the day. We should be grateful that we now have the skills to work efficiently. In our short sails like this one between Dominican Republic and Cuba, we tend to forget why we do everything we do. It’s only when we do longer sails that we realize how important our duties are to keep our ship sanitary and organized.

Following the good work of Watch One, the Gulden Leeuw can finally rest at anchor along the shore of Havana. Even though we had problems that came along the way, we can finally say that our third sail was successful. Some of us had our ups and down, but we all eventually get over it since that’s what we do on Class Afloat. Pushing our limits becomes rapidly part of our daily routine and that’s how we get through longer sails. I am feeling very positive for Cuba since I know that all of our hard work during the past week wasn’t for nothing and it will ultimately pay off.

We had a beautiful sail from Dominica to the Dominican Republic. We sailed into the Dominican Republic on a beautiful calm morning and were welcomed by dozens of Humpback Whales! It was a truly amazing sight and we very happily ran from class hearing the excited calls of “Whale”. It was a truly breath taking sight and a perfect way to begin our stay in the Dominican Republic.

Dominican Republic
Some of our painting was not very easily accessible and required different measures to reach the spots that were high up.

On our first day in the Dominican Republic we packed our bags ready for our homestays and began our Dominican Republic experience with a hike to the Limon waterfall. It was a half day hike and we all enjoyed the waterfall swim and walk back, with a pizza dinner by the beach in Las Terrenas driving us on. We arrived in Las Terrenas and split into different groups to enjoy pizza by the beach. The pizza was delicious and with full bellies and happy faces, we were ready to make our way to our homestays. We were all split up into different homestays staying in groups of two to ten.

While in our homestays (between being fed way too much delicious food) we helped out in the community painting colourful houses. It seemed like a small job but it was a way in which we could get involved in the community and give a little back. It was also a great opportunity for us to get to know our homestay family even better as they joined us to help with the painting of many of the houses. We all had a vastly different experience within our home stays. The experience that I had is one I will truly never forget.

Some of our painting was not very easily accessible and required different measures to reach the spots that were high up.

Throughout my time in the homestay I had the opportunity to get to know my host family very well and got to experience many knew things. The homestay that I stayed in with three other students was amazing. We instantly felt as if we had been adopted by the parents and son, meeting the extended family throughout our stay and feeling truly part of the family. There was not a moment that we didn’t feel welcome and never a minute that we had hungry tummies.

Limon Waterfall
Limon Waterfall in the Dominican waterfall. The waterfall was amazing and I felt truly at ease swimming in the beautiful cool, clear water.

On our last night at our homestays we got together with students from other homestays and enjoyed a Dominican dinner at the local basketball court with many local children too. We ate lots, danced a bit and had heaps and heaps of fun. Although there was a language barrier between the children and us it made no difference to the amount of fun we had. The smiles on our faces and the children’s when we were dancing together and having piggy back rides is something I will truly never forget. It was the people of the Dominican Republic that made it such an amazing stay.

One of the most powerful parts of my time in the Dominican Republic was the time spent getting to know the people of the Dominican Republic. They were so welcoming and always introduced themselves to us. As many of them spoke very little or no English it would be guessed that it would be nearly impossible to communicate, but the people there were different; they welcomed us with big warm smiles. No words were needed and this made the relationships even stronger. Many of the family members of our homestay also could not speak English and, even though we were leaving having spent very little time conversing with them, I felt like I knew them so well. Even just a hug and a reflective moment when leaving showed the depth of our relationship and the sadness of leaving.

Having said a sad goodbye to our homestay families on the last day, we then spent the afternoon in Las Terrenas. We had one last buffet lunch and then spent the afternoon exploring and enjoying the beach. Catching the bus back to the ship preparing to sail out the next day, I reflected on the amazing time that I had and remembered the amazing people that made my experience great. The Dominican Republic is definitely a place I would consider returning to in the future and my homestay an unforgettable experience that I will hold dearly in my heart.

After spending a wonderful time in the Dominican Republic, staying with different families and doing community work such as painting houses and building a playground, we set off on an eight-day sail towards Havana. Before leaving Dominican Republic, many students did some last shopping for snacks such as chocolate and granola bars to fill up our snack bags (all students have our own snack bag, where we keep our personal snacks) for the sail.

We started off the sail with baking club’s top-secret operation circle. At night, after study hall, we met up down in galley (the kitchen) and then we started cutting out the dough, which was already prepared, for bagels. When the dough was cut, we rolled the dough up into little balls that we then pressed with our fingers to shape them like little halos. While we were doing that, we also put a big pot of water over the stove. Making bagels is an art.

When the water was hot enough, Mairead balanced the bagels on her arms and I threw them into the hot pot of water. Brie, the medical officer, stated a timer and Mauricio flipped the bagels around so that each side of the bagels got about 40 seconds in the boiling water. When the bagels had boiled for the right amount of time, we fished them out and then Ingrid and Stephanie sprinkled cheese and roasted seeds on top of them. We then put the bagels in the oven until they became a beautiful golden-brown colour. While the bagels were in the oven, the whole galley smelled like heaven. When the bagels were done, the people in baking club enjoyed having a little bagel party where we each had half a bagel to taste; they were delicious.

Class Afloat Anastasia 2

After our little bagel party, we made the last effort to clean up the galley before going to our bunks and getting some rest before getting up for watch (on the boat we have night watch where we are responsible for sailing the ship). I was extremely tired so I feel asleep immediately.

The next morning, I got up as soon as I heard the music playing in the dorms (we play music for wake ups), because I did not want to miss breakfast that day! I got dressed and ran up the stairs to join the line for food. Everyone was grateful to have homemade bagels for breakfast and people kept telling us how much they enjoyed them.

Later in the day my Global Geography class got interrupted by minke whales! We were sitting in class working on an assignment when suddenly someone shouted that there were whales outside! We all ran outside and rushed to the aft (back) of the boat where we saw a giant group of minke whales. There were whales everywhere I looked, and they were super close to the boat! They were coming from the aft and swimming under the boat. We could see the white shadow of their belly when they gracefully turned around in the water. I was speechless. We have seen whales before on Class Afloat, but never this close and so many at a time. I missed about 30min of class but it was totally worth it for this amazing experience.