200 Years After Darwin, Tall Ship Recreates HMS Beagle's Famed Voyage

Oosterschelde (Oosterschelde Foundation)

Published Aug 13, 2023 9:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

A team of tall-ship operators are about to embark on a recreation of Charles Darwin's famous voyage of discovery, which led directly to the development of the theory of evolution. 

A group of environmental researchers and adventure travelers will soon set sail from Plymouth on a three-masted schooner for a planetary conservation expedition, dubbed Darwin200. In 1831, Darwin set sail from the same port aboard the survey ship HMS Beagle. Modern day young conservationists will embark on a two-year expedition to recreate Darwin’s experience aboard the Dutch tall ship Oosterschelde, and organizers have rebranded the ship as the "world's most exciting classroom." 

On Tuesday, August 15, Oosterschelde will set sail on a 40,000 nautical mile voyage following the route taken by Darwin. During the expedition, the ship will drop anchor in 32 ports across four continents, and it will invite young environmentalists aboard for educational and conservation missions at these stopovers.

During Darwin's five-year expedition in the southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, he studied isolated populations of flora and fauna inhabiting remote islands. His newfound knowledge served as a basis for the development of his theory of evolution. He presented his findings in his seminal book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," released in 1859.

“Charles Darwin was only 22 when he set sail from Plymouth on his life-changing voyage famously saying that it was by far the most important event in his life, determining his whole career. We wanted to create a similarly transformative experience,” said Stewart McPherson, Darwin200 founder and mission director.

In the modern-day voyage, the schooner Oosterschelde will sail across the globe in a mission to inspire the environmental leaders and scientists of the future. The ship, which is the largest sailing vessel ever to be restored in the Netherlands, is registered by the Dutch government as a monument of great cultural and historical value. Built in 1917 originally as a cargo vessel, the ship was relaunched after a major refurbishment in 1996.  

Sailing the ship between ports will be a mix of environmental researchers and adventure travelers who will be tasked with steering, navigating and manning the ropes of the three-masted topsail schooner under the guidance of a professional crew. Along the way they’ll document ocean plastics and coral reef health and undertake surveys of seabirds, whales and dolphins. 

“We all know we’re in the midst of the sixth great extinction with a lot of doom and gloom about the problems facing the environment, climate change and loss of biodiversity. This voyage will give many people an opportunity to see there is still time to make change,” said famed primate researcher Dame Jane Goodall, a Darwin200 Patron.