While her classmates were navigating the challenges and chaos of starting college in the midst of the COVID- 19 pandemic last fall, Lucia Jackson ’20 was facing her own unique challenges.
After she had made the decision to take a gap year after graduating from Baylor in June, programs were canceled, borders were closed, and the uncertainty of the pandemic was unrelenting. As a result, she decided to look into SEA|mester, a program that provides students the chance to do a gap year or have a study abroad experience for credit while working and sailing aboard a ship.
On Sept. 13, Jackson left Tennessee and flew to the Maldives where she stepped aboard a 112-foot schooner to quarantine, settled into a cabin measuring four feet by eight feet with a three-stack bunk and three cubbies, and began a journey that would cover 11,497 nautical miles over five and a half months.
“From the Maldives, we sailed to the Seychelles Island across from Somalia, then down to South Africa and into Cape Town,” says Jackson. While “in passage,” which is sailing lingo for being at sea, Jackson was making new friends, learning to sail, and helping with the daily chores that had to be done. “It was a learning vessel so everyone was learning to sail. We had this thing called a job wheel so every day you had a different job – you could be a chef or wash dishes or scrub the deck. We basically helped with everything on the boat,” she explained. “It was pretty easy to adjust. The hardest thing was waking up in the middle of the night for four hours on the watch team,” says Jackson. “Our watch was four hours on, and four hours off.”
From the Maldives, we sailed to the Seychelles Island across from Somalia, then down to South Africa and into Cape Town.
When the official gap program ended after three months, Jackson applied for a position to continue sailing to the Caribbean and was selected along with ten of her new friends, which added another two and a half months to her adventure. “We basically did a straight sail from Capetown to the Caribbean with one stop in St. Helena, and then we sailed into Antigua where the trip ended,” says Jackson.
Jackson found the work on the schooner to be satisfying, the friendships meaningful, and the learning exhilarating while being close to the ocean. “I think my favorite part was seeing so many cool things and seeing so much wildlife around all of the time,” says Jackson. “We saw whales a couple of times and a lot of huge dolphin pods that would swim with our boat, a lot of flying fish.”
Even storms didn’t dampen Jackson’s adventurous spirit. “I wasn’t ever really scared, but we did have some pretty big storms. It was fun to stand on the deck and get pelted by rain.”
This fall, Jackson will trade her ocean views for mountain vistas when she begins classes at Montana State. She says she plans to study environmental science and then adds, “I definitely know I want to work on boats again.”