By Diane Ako
A Swiss family sailing around the world has made a stop in Hawaii. Dario Schworer, his wife Sabine, their four children ages two through eight, and two tutors/assistants are in the Islands for a couple weeks. His group is called TOPtoTOP.
On this leg of their sailing voyage they are investigating waste debris in the ocean for the International Pacific Research Center based in Honolulu. In Hawaii, they plan to organize beach clean-ups and school presentations to inspire students to protect the environment. The expedition, which started in 2002, will achieve a world record, by being the first to travel all climate zones - over the seven seas to the seven summits - using only nature’s power!
"We do this in order to set an example of what can be done to live in harmony with our environment, sharing collected climate solutions with students along the way," explains Dario.
On Hawaii Island they summited Mauna Kea on bicycle, before sailing to Oahu to meet and work with scientists at the International Pacific Research Center. When they leave Oahu, they will sail to Mount Denali in Alaska, then through the Northwest Passage in the Arctic, continuing their journey to be the first sail-yacht to circumnavigate the two Americas from pole to pole in a figure of eight, making best use of the wind and currents.
This section of the global adventure will be completed by climbing Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. They will be taking water samples along this route and reporting back to the International Pacific Research Center on the quality of the ocean's water and the impact from the Japan tsunami.
I had a chance to meet the family while they were in Oahu. All four of their children were born during this expedition, so after a hospital birth, they returned to the boat, virtually knowing no other life than sailing at sea. While the family's amazing journey is what draws most media interest, I was equally as interested in how they raise a family while on board a boat - non-stop, 24/7.
"We have no privacy," Dario offered immediately, with a laugh.
One of the two assistants nodded. "I have earplugs," she said.
"We have four kids. This is what happens when you have no TV," joked Sabine.
It was not Dario and Sabine's intention to have children while on their sail. They started in 2002 and originally planned a four-year sail. "But then, Sabine got pregnant and we decided to see how it worked out. It's actually been great," Dario commented.
Sabine went on to describe how living in small quarters impacts a marriage: some challenges, but mostly wonderful. They agreed to go to sleep angry, because the space it too small to harbor all that angry energy. Also, if there's a storm, they need to work together to navigate and survive.
"When was the last time you saw only your spouse and no other human being for 40 days straight?" Dario asked. I cannot think of any time, ever in my life, that I have seen only one person for 40 days. "That is what I had with Sabine, and it's so beautiful. We become like one body, one mind, and we grow together."
I think I could do that with my husband, but I also think that kind of living is not for every person or every couple. Kudos to them for making it work.
They went on to say how important communication is. "We decided that every day at 3 we would meet at the boat's anchor and talk, debrief what's going on with each other. There's so much to do on board, that we do need to make time to communicate," Sabine said.
I think about raising my daughter, now six, in our peaceful little community in lovely Oahu. I feel very lucky to reside in such a safe and family-friendly state.
Yet, I worry about all the things moms do: criminals, getting hit by a car, rejection at a new school, not to mention the stress of fighting traffic, juggling schedules, managing Olivia's homework.
Sabine agreed; these are not her worries. On the other hand, "The grandparents miss them terribly, and for a long time before Mary and Christine (the staffers) joined us, there were only two of us adults to watch over everyone. When you sail at night you need to keep watch so you don't hit anything. If there is a storm, it's worse. Imagine staying up all night to keep the boat upright and then having to watch the kids all day the following day. The kids are sleeping through the storm, you know, so they're full of energy the next day."
On a more mundane level, there are things that Dario and Sabine wish to give their children: "A dog. Dancing lessons. Violin lessons." Different countries have quarantine rules, making a pet impossible to have on board.
I spent 90 minutes playing with the children, who seemed well-adjusted and were so friendly and smart. The oldest, eight year old Salina, chattered away about the whales she saw by Santa Lina, Italy and the hikes in Patagonia and Nepal. The three year old, Noe, climbed on my lap and started chanting "Rio De Janeiro" when photos of Brazil flashed on the slideshow. "That's his favorite city," Dario explained.
Salina, fluent in English, easily moved back and forth between English and Swiss German when she couldn't figure out a word. She was bright, charming, and amazing. Added her mom, "I was so shy as a child, but due to our lifestyle on the boat, my children have had to learn to be extroverted. Salina will just go up to a new child and ask to play. I'm glad that this lifestyle has given her this outgoing personality."
Dario elaborated on more positives. "They aren't spoiled. We have limited space on board, so they're limited to one box of toys. If they get a new toy, they have to give one away to make space. They also learned to eat all the food on their plate because we don't have the luxury of wasting food. And they listen. When I tell them to put on their life vest, they do it right away and don't complain. They know it's for their safety and their life depends on it," he said.
These kids have lived more in their short existence than many people do in a lifetime; it's such an impressive thought to mull over. The family plans to stay at sea until 2017.
I couldn't imagine giving up my land life to do what they are doing, which adds to the fascination of talking to the Schworers and hearing about their many travels and tales.
I was especially fond of Salina, who gave me a huge hug that knocked me backwards when it was time to go. "Don't go," she said, reminding me of Olivia. "I don't want you to go." As most children draw a picture of their house, Salina drew a picture of her boat as a gift to me to remember her, before she left to ride the next wave of adventure.