The Schurmann family inspire Brazilians using lessons learned from the sea to face social distancing

Advocating for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ocean Voices campaign, the Schurmanns use expertise from their 36 years of sea expeditions  to face challenges imposed by social distancing.

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Before the coronavirus pandemic took the entire world by surprise, the Schurmann’s isolation efforts had always been on board and motivated by dreams. Nowadays, social distancing is a measure taken consciously, through necessity and as a way to respect society. As such, the clan has been divided between Heloísa Schurmann and her son David, both isolated onshore, and Vilfredo together youngest Wilhelm, who are on board the Sailboat Kat at the Falkland Islands. Despite the situations differing greatly, the Schumann’s expertise from their 36 years of sea expeditions have helped them to face the challenges of daily life during the pandemic and helped many Brazilians at this time.

“I know that it’s not easy and I recognize that this situation affects everyone’s lives differently. But it is essential to have and exercise patience”, says Heloisa Schurmann. During their first and historical world tour, the Schurmann’s crew included five members: Heloísa, Vilfredo, and their children Pierre, David, and Wilhelm. Enclosed in a 44 square metre space, they had their first experience in isolation while spending 30 days inside a sailboat, surrounded by water everywhere as they crossed an ocean. There was nowhere to go. There was nowhere to escape to. The view of the horizon was comprised solely of water.

Heloísa concedes that in such a situation, everyone has to be patient, otherwise there will be a stronger and more destructive storm on board, worse than any natural disaster. “It takes patience to understand that everyone is literally in the same boat. My space becomes our space. My space is our space but that doesn’t take away the right we each have to enjoy a moment to themselves. I can stay quiet by myself, in my own space.”

The Schurmanns abide by a rule that they have been following for decades: that coexisting in such close quarters and such intensity does not allow for resentment and nagging. Arguments and different viewpoints are normal but they cannot become a monster that gets fed every day. “If someone does something that dissatisfies someone else while on board, they sit face-to-face and talk about it to solve the issue right away. If a storm comes, the crew needs to be well sorted out and united to face the challenge with composure”, Heloísa explains.

Something else learned from their experiences onboard is task division. It should already be a common practice in all homes around the world but it has shown itself to be beyond essential in this phase of work from home and online learning, where chores such as cleaning and cooking are becoming communal.

“When we set sail for our first trip around the world, Pierre was 15, David 10 and Wilhelm 7 years old. They all helped with chores, with navigating as well as with cleaning and other household tasks.”

The Schurmann’s expeditions were always moments of intense integration and family bonding, where conversation, high spirits, and communal values were cultivated on board.

“This storm will pass. We need to keep an eye on the future. In this moment of intense reflection, we can observe the effects of the ‘planet without man’. Nature rebuilding itself, pollution rates skydiving” Heloísa says, pointing out that her family has a commitment to the seas and also the planet. When the pandemic ends the Schurmanns will further intensify the Ocean’s Voices, a movement that includes an expedition with worldwide support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – for which the family is an advocate.

Ocean Voices: Soon the Schurmanns will set off for their next major world expedition, counting on global support from the United Nations Environment Programme. Through Ocean Voices, the Schurmanns will witness and register what is happening in the oceans, as well as navigate in search of innovative solutions while also raising awareness and engaging people around the world towards the need for urgent action. In this new expedition, the Schurmann family aims to engage scientists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and governments with proposals to reverse the critical state that the seas are currently in. The project also involves actions such as education and efforts in entrepreneurship.