Sail to the COP – a grounded sailing story
September 15, 2020

“We woke up with dolphins and flying fish around the ship. But far more importantly, it was the most unique opportunity to form a community, unlike anything else I have experienced.” 

Rosa Hofgärtner from ExPlane shares the adventurous journey she, together with fellow environmental activist travellers, undertook in the project Sail to the COP – and the  inspiring results of this sailing trip. 

My name is Rosa. I am a recently graduated student in Environmental Policy. Without any sailing experience, I decided to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with 35 other young environmentalists from Europe to call for a fair and sustainable travel industry. We called this undertaking Sail to the COP. Our destination was the 25th UN Climate Conference (COP25) in Santiago de Chile, because those conferences are the type of places where important decisions are made about our future. We wanted to raise our voices at the COP and influence those processes – but without flying. That’s why we chose the beautiful three-master Regina Maris to travel there.

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Foto by: Sail to the COP

If the whole group had decided to fly to South America, we would have emitted tons of CO2:  about 116.532 (!) kg CO2 equivalents. To put this in perspective, one return flight from Amsterdam to Santiago de Chile emits a similar amount of CO2 as the amount that would be saved by eating vegetarian for more than 8 years.

Beyond an individual choice, it was mostly a symbolic and strategic one: we wanted to inspire others to reconsider their flying habits and use the attention for our journey to pressure politicians and world leaders to address the polluting aviation industry (for example, by introducing a tax on kerosene). We also used the time aboard to think about solutions to make travelling more fair and sustainable.

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Foto by: Sail to the COP

I don’t know if I can say ‘I stayed on the ground’, but by choosing water instead of air for my travels I definitely noticed some advantages: I learnt how to hoist a sail and to recognize rainy clouds from afar. At night, we saw the milky way above us and sparkly algae beneath us. We woke up with dolphins and flying fish around the ship. But far more importantly, it was the most unique opportunity to form a community, unlike anything else I have experienced. We spent more than 80 days on a ship (almost entirely without internet). This gave us enough time to get to know everyone on board deeply and to think about solutions thoroughly.

The disadvantages? I found out I can get pretty seasick when the waves are high. The working and eating conditions on a ship can also be quite challenging (think about: sudden waves smashing over your paperwork or your dinner flying through the room).

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Foto by: Sail to the COP

My advice to people who want to travel on the ground: make it fun and interesting! The journey can be as valuable as the destination. For us this really appeared to be true, because the location of the COP changed unexpectedly to Spain when we were already in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. You can find more information on how we dealt with this here.

Currently, I am working together with Sail to the COP-participants Symke, Jiske and Sofie on one of the solutions we came up with during the think tank: ExPlane, an initiative building a network of students and staff at universities that stands up against the impacts of flying and demands universities to lead by example in travelling consciously.

So the journey continues for the travellers on the Regina Maris.

A new story of Air Travel – Video by Sail to The COP: