Swiss family sails around the world for climate change

The Pachamama Band, also known to a few as the Schwoerer family singers, are all members of one Swiss family that has been living at sea for the past sixteen years. They’ve been sailing around the world in a boat called Pachamama, educating people about climate change and re-strengthening humanity’s relationship with nature.

The Schwoerer family is sailing around the world educating people about climate change for ToptoTop Organization. Photo (Photo courtesy of TopToTop)
The Schwoerer family is sailing around the world educating people about climate change for ToptoTop Organization. Photo (Photo courtesy of TopToTop)

“It’s about respect to nature, about giving back also to others, just to care about this planet like it’s your own mother,” Dario Schwoerer said.

As part of an organization the Schwoerer family started called ToptoTop, their goal was to reach the tops of the seven tallest mountains on each of the seven continents without using motorized transportation of any kind. ToptoTop also took on volunteers when possible to help crew the boat, collect data on climate change, and assist with the kids’ education. Currently, there are three volunteers living on board with the Schwoerers.

Dario Schwoerer, the father of five, said the plan was to take four years to complete this record feat, but the plan has changed slightly since he and his wife first started in the year 2000.

“So, our goal now is to go through the Northwest Passage to Greenland, and do, more or less, a figure eight… and on that figure eight, we will also sail south to Antarctica and hopefully do the mountain we tried to do in 2004 then,” Schwoerer said.

In 2004, Dario and his family attempted to reach Mt. Vinson, the tallest mountain in Antarctica, but their self-built vessel was so damaged by the icy waters that they couldn’t continue. The Schwoerers have faced a variety of challenges during their sixteen-year long sea voyage, including a lack of funding.

One of the sponsors for ToptoTop for eight years was SGS, an international inspection and certification company. But when a new CEO took over SGS, Dario said their educational project’s resources suffered; “now, we are running on half of our budget,” he said.

Currently, the rest of ToptoTop’s budget comes from individual donations and from their other sponsor, Victorinox. Victorinox manufactures apparel and travel gear, but they are more commonly known for making genuine Swiss Army knives. Being of Swiss heritage, The Schwoerer family brought many Swiss Army knives with them to serve different practical purposes on board — and, maybe, a not-so-practical one.

Sabine Schwoerer, a former nurse and now full time mother, used a Swiss Army knife during each of her children’s births. “We cut the umbilical cords… so we have five knives, and we will give them to them (the children) when they are 20,” Sabine Schwoerer said with a laugh.

Five knives for five children: the oldest is Salina, then Andri, Noe, Allegra, and the newborn, Mia, who can be heard crying in the background. All of them were born at sea and have spent their entire lives on this floating home.

So when the children were asked how they felt about frequently moving from place to place, they said, “It’s good, it’s nice, you have to say ‘bye’ to a lot, that’s sad, but you get to say ‘hi’ to a lot, too.”

And the Schwoerer family has said “hi” to a lot, from Mt. Everest, to the Shanghai World Expo facilities, and small villages around the world where they have taught more than 80,000 children about climate change.

After seeing so many beautiful places, Dario still recalled one of his favorite sights, an ice ridge from the Piz Bernina Mountain in his homeland.

“There’s a wonderful ice ridge going to the top, it’s like a stairway to heaven out of ice, it’s really beautiful,” said Dario with a twinkle in his eyes.

Originally a Swiss mountain guide, Dario grew up in a remote village of 55 people located in a part of the Swiss mountains. When he saw climate change negatively affecting his workplace, Dario studied at a Swiss university to become a climatologist and made a plan to educate others about climate change.

That’s why Dario is encouraging and educating children all over the world, including his own.

Dario recalled, “nature teaches them something, every day, and I mean just the other day when we sailed in here and saw the Salmon Creek here. They catched (sic) more than 11 fish, and they have had a blast. Andri the 9-year-old taking them in, Noe the six-year-old killing them, and Allegra the five-year-old and Selena the 11-year-old cleaning them out. They came back at 10 o’clock at night, we didn’t know where they went, big smiles with all that salmon.”

The ToptoTop organization’s desire, and Dario’s wish, is that after this Pole-to-Pole expedition, then a younger generation will continue this for the Schwoerers.

Dario said the hope is, “that young people take over. ThatPachamama, that’s the name of the boat that stands for Mother Earth, goes around the planet many, many times more, inspiring young people, and that hopefully we get settled once then.”

Having visited cities and towns all over the world, the Schwoerers are unsure as to where they would like to make port permanently, but they say Alaska is towards the TOP of their list. For now, the family will stay in Nome for approximately a week and then sail to Barrow to determine if they can continue up the Northwest Passage.

Davis Hovey is a news reporter at KNOM - Nome.

Hovey was born and raised in Virginia. He spent most of his childhood in Greene County 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville where University of Virginia is located.

Hovis was drawn in by the opportunity to work for a radio station in a remote, unique place like Nome Alaska. Hovis went to Syracuse University, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Broadcast Digital Journalism.

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