A group of Transition Year students stepped into a strange new world when they disembarked from a month at sea on a tall ship sail training voyage.
The eight teenagers arrived in Cork Harbour on Tuesday 7 April on the SV Tenacious, which had sailed since early March from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean — with little knowledge of how daily life has changed in Ireland in the intervening weeks.
Conor Galligan and Conor Walsh, for instance, both enjoy racing Lasers in Dun Laoghaire and Cork respectively, and are also qualified dinghy instructors hoping to put that training into practice this summer.
Charlie Kavanagh and Aiden Colbert are no strangers to sailing, either — the latter with cruising experience, while the former has sailed with his family.
Perhaps the best equipped was Sam Duncan, of the National Yacht Club, who joined a tall ship voyage last year with another charity — the Rona Sailing Project — which he enjoyed so much he was looking to expand his offshore miles while also qualifying as a dinghy instructor this season.
But while their prior experience on the water set them in good stead for a month on the high seas — honing essential seafaring skills along with 40 other crew — nothing could prepare them for what awaited as they landed in Cobh this week.
Concerns started to brew just days into their voyage as the scheduled host port in Greece was closed to visiting boats under strict measures against Covid-19.
Parents of the young crew, two of whom have underlying health conditions, were relieved by Jubilee Sailing Trust’s immediate decision to return to the UK, via the Azores and Cork Harbour — with no shore leave granted for the safety of the crew, who were essentially coccooned from the pandemic throughout.
The last leg of that journey, traversing the North Atlantic from the Azores to Ireland, presented a genuine challenge to the young sailors, with three days of gale-force winds to contend with.
But a different challenge faced them on arrival in Cork in Tuesday, when the eight Irish crew were said to be taken aback by the ‘new normal’ of social distancing and the shutdown of the economy.
Robbie Byrne from Greystones said: “It was a big shock coming back to Ireland today and seeing people wearing masks and everyone being told keep their distance and of course driving home, the roads were empty, there was no one out.”
The Irish Times has much more on the story HERE.