At 16, I found myself flying halfway around the world to Athens, Greece. I was on my way to join the Oceanics. A semester of ‘experiential’ learning instead of the usual high school. My father loved the idea so much, he sent my brother too. After what seemed like a whirlwind of activity (shopping, packing, physicals and shots- lots and lots of shots), we boarded the flight to Greece. What is it like to go to school whilst sailing the world you ask?
Athens was good preparation for the entire journey. We got in late, after dark. On arrival we met a few other kids and started to sort ourselves out. Soon, we were hustled out the airport and told to hide across the road in a bunch of bushes. There were more kids there. All of us hid in the dark until a big cargo van stopped to quickly load us up. All of us were wondering, ‘what the hell”?
We sped through the night, sliding around in the dark as the van swerved around the curves. I was wondering just what the heck I got myself into. Eventually we arrived at a local hostel. It was closed for the night, but they snuck us in. Later, (much later), I learned this was the reason for the cloak and dagger bit from the airport. Something to do with the cost of cabs and closing times. So, we started off a little fly-by-night and that continued. What an adventure!
I had the time of my life! We traveled all over Europe and South America for months. On the ship and on our own. We learned the local language, history, literature, culture. Sometimes we stayed with families in their homes for a few days or a week.
We sailed the schooner Ariadne from Pireaus, Greece to Palermo and Cefalu Sicily, to Malaga and Almeria, Spain, to La Gomera in the Canary Islands (where Columbus also departed for the Caribbean).
As we were sailing the world across the Atlantic, we spent our time tending to the ship. Standing watches as lookout on the bow, steering the ship, tending sails, peeling potatoes- whatever was needed. We had class every day. We learned celestial navigation, seamanship, oceanography, and continued our cultural and language studies in Spanish.
We left our beautiful Ariadne when we arrived in Martinique. We were able to enjoy the beach or climb Mt Pele (the fog kept us from reaching the summit). From there we flew to Caracas, Venezuela, where the next stage of our voyage began.
We spent the next couple of months traveling around South America. We’d travel together by bus, or split up into small groups to rendezvous later. From Venezuela, we explored Columbia. Ecuador was next. Quito, and other mountain towns. We were able to visit a research center in the rain forest and then rode down the Rio Napo to visit the local ‘indians’.
We were able to visit the Galapagos Islands whilst sailing the world (before it was so restricted) and I’ll never forget swimming in those crystal clear waters with the curious sea lions and iguanas.
The entire trip was like that. I’ve had to leave so much out of this story. I stayed on for another few months. I graduated high school on the wharf in Copenhagen. All of us dressed up in our finest blue jeans, Oceanics t-shirts and foul weather gear, singing ‘What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor’ and ‘Amazing Grace’.
I learned so much on that trip. Not only in class- but how to work as a team, how to make things work, how to improvise, how to find my way, how to make myself understood (without a common language).
But the most important thing I learned on that voyage was that I was an important part of the crew. I was needed there on that ship- we all were. I gained a lot of confidence on the ship. It became my home. I loved it. So much that I decided to become a ship captain.
I’ve spent my life since then working at sea. I’ve worked my way up from a deckhand to Master Mariner. I still love ships and the sea, and all the things I learnt from sailing the world. I can’t imagine a better way of life.
I grew up in a small fishing village in Florida. As a teen I was lucky enough to go to the Oceanics School where we traveled around the world in the most unusual ways. I spent a few months on traditional sailing ships and found my passion. I earned my Master Mariners license in December 2011. I'm a down to earth woman who wants to see and do it all! I love to travel, explore, read, eat, drink, experience all the world has to offer. I like to meet new people and talk about life, philosophy, politics, religion, all the things you're not supposed to discuss in polite company.
What a unique way to learn, whilst sailing the world! Did you have a similar experience learning abroad to Jill? Comment below!