Home Arts and Life Around the world in 15 months: Local boater offers experience of a lifetime
Around the world in 15 months: Local boater offers experience of a lifetime

Around the world in 15 months: Local boater offers experience of a lifetime


By Delaney Brown

Students looking for an adventure can now sail across the seven seas.

Local boater Johannes “Jopie” Helsen, 69, is looking for a USF St. Petersburg student to join him as he circumnavigates the globe, raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Helsen hopes that he can find a student who is as enthusiastic about the mission as they are to help share his adventure.

On the boat, the student will mostly be responsible for video editing and uploading material to the website.

“I need someone with a creative mind to brainstorm new ideas, shoot video and just tell a story,” Helsen said.

All Aboard:A view of Sky from the stern. The boat is currently being renovated before her ocean voyage. Courtesy of Johannes Helsen

He sees this opportunity as a great internship for students. That’s why he found himself thumbing through the university course catalog and reaching out to the chair of the journalism and digital communications department, Deni Elliott, to see if she knew of any students up for the challenge.

In December 2018, Helsen and the student will board “Sky,” a 57-foot Vaudrey Miller yacht, and set sail for St. Lucia to join the fleet of boats participating the World Cruising Club’s 2019 World ARC.

The World ARC is an adventurer’s dream, covering 26,000 nautical miles of warm water and exotic destinations. Sailors follow the trade winds, avoiding storms and rough seas as they visit the Panama Canal, the Galapagos Islands and French Polynesia before reaching the halfway point of the Great Barrier Reef.  

Although the student wouldn’t be paid, they would have all their meals taken care of and would receive a weekly stipend. Helson understands the commitment his intern would make in agreeing to the project, but he sees it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I’d be totally out of money if I paid the student,” Helsen laughed.

Despite receiving donations for some of the pricier upgrades to the boat, Helsen has paid for most of the costs himself.

Originally from the Netherlands, Helsen moved to the Tampa Bay area when he was 15 and he’s made the bay his home port ever since.

“I’ve always loved sailing. When I moved to St. Petersburg as a kid, I started walking the docks of the local yacht clubs offering to clean boats in return for sailing lessons,” Helsen said.

Now the owner of local boatyard “Sailor’s Wharf,” he wants to share his love of the water and philanthropy with a new generation as he embarks on his sailing trip across the world.

Helsen hopes to not only use this platform to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, but also to document his travels to share with local schoolchildren.

“I want to create something truly professional with a website and videos on Youtube,” said Helsen.

With destinations like the Galapagos Islands and the Great Barrier Reef on the itinerary, Helsen sees an opportunity to get schoolkids interested in learning.

“Kids in the 5th and 6th grade are just starting to learn about stuff like conservation,” said Helsen., “The idea is to give them something in the real world that they can see and learn through.”

Helping Hand: Helsen opened his boatyard Sailor’s Wharf in ‘78 and has used the business to give back to the community. He’s donated boats to both USFSP and Eckerd in the hopes of making sailing more accessible. Courtesy of Johannes Helsen

The seasoned sailor is wistful as he talks about the excitement and uncertainty that would comprise the trip.

He imagines all the boats packed together and running toward their first destination.

He imagines the peace and tranquility of looking out on the horizon once you’re the only boat in sight.

He imagines meeting fellow travelers on a far-away island; making lasting memories at a local bar.

He likes to think about students tracing the voyage of “Sky” during the school day and getting excited about what they learn and having it spark a lifelong passion.

Aside from another portfolio item, Helsen hopes his crew will walk away with a love of the sea, like he did decades ago.

“I was competing in the first St. Pete to Isla Mujeres race 50 years ago when I saw the Milky Way for the first time. I was just in awe. It’s spiritual,” said Helsen. “I fell in love with the world on the water.”

Header photo courtesy of Johannes Helsen


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