2016-10-26

Globetrotting Swiss family makes stop in Liverpool

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Haligonian Amanda Shannon with Swiss couple Sabine and Dario Schw&#246;rer. The Schw&#246;rers have spent the past 16 years sailing the world with their five children &#8212; their oldest is 11 and their youngest 10-months old &#8212; climbing the world&#8217;s tallest peaks and speaking at schools about climate change and the environment.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Seen in the Brooklyn Harbour is Dario and Sabine Schw&#246;rer&#8217;s Top to Top sailboat, part of their global expedition to spread awareness of climate change and environmental protection.</p>

When Swiss couple Dario and Sabine Schwörer embarked on a quest to climb the highest peaks on every continent, they thought it would be a four-year journey at most.

Now 16 years later, the Schwörers have indeed conquered some of the world's tallest mountains, from Everest to Kilimanjaro, and even Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica, as part of their global expedition Top to Top.

But their travels have also taken them on a slightly different path than they expected, sailing to schools in every corner of the world, spreading their message of environmental protection and along the way raising a family.

"When you go slow you gain time," said Dario. "I think we really need to start counting our lives in experiences."

Australia, India, Tibet, China, Hawaii and Brazil are just some of the places the Schwörers have laid claim to and as luck would have it, the family passed through Nova Scotia after a hardy, but enlightening, trip through the Northwest Passage.

After a chance encounter in Baddeck, Liverpudlian Tim Woodford invited the Schwörers, who are on their way south to Boston, to Liverpool and they agreed.

Their journey, said Woodford, is a "fascinating story from so many aspects," and so on the evening of October 17, with roughly two dozen people gathered at the Town Hall Arts & Cultural Centre, the Schwörers shared their story.

Dario, a mountain guide, and Sabine, a nurse, have sustained themselves economically through their past occupations and by working odd jobs, having cleaned dishes at a lobster restaurant in Barbados at one time.

They've gotten donations, helped companies test green technology on their sailboat, the Pachamama, an Inca word meaning a lifestyle in harmony with nature, and have sponsors, among them Victorinox, maker of the Swiss Army knife.

On top of that, the Schwörers collect data for universities, including samples of microplastics in the oceans.

But the real work takes place at schools. The Schwörers having spoken to upwards of 100,000 students with a goal to motivate each child to do something for the planet, all the while accompanied by their children Salina, 11, Andri, 9, Noe, 7, Alegra, 5, and Mia, 10-months old, each born in different areas of the world from Chile, Patagonia, Australia, Singapore and Europe.

"The best investment you can do is just in kids," said Dario.

But their journey has not been without close encounters, from nearly losing their mast at sea to hitting a shipping container near Antarctica that damaged their rudder and broke their hull. They would sail like this for three weeks before finding safety in Patagonia.

Just last year, at a goodbye party on a beach in San Diego, while playing soccer Dario tore his Achilles tendon, forcing the family to travel back to Switzerland so Dario could undergo surgery.

He nearly lost his leg and his family asked him not to travel anymore, but in the end the Schwörers pushed on, making it to the Arctic and witnessing first hand the damage to Canada's North.

"What we really discovered is there was no ice," said Sabine. The Schwörers saw how climate change affects small island populations displaced by rising sea levels, and Dario said they may return to the North to do some work with Canada's Inuit.

Amanda Shannon met the Schwörers in Halifax while her father fixed a pump in their boat's engine. She took the family around the city and later sailed with them to Liverpool.

Shannon identified with their message of sustainable travel and having worked in Labrador herself, she was glad the Schwörers met with Northern communities. "I'm just amazed by them," she said. "I think they're awesome."

Dario admits he misses his family and friends back home, but he is never without company. Pictures from their travels show the Schwörers happily spending Christmases and birthdays together camping or on their boat.

Having learned so much about other cultures himself, Dario hopes his children will learn to care about others and the environment. "Nature is the best teacher."

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