It was foggy, rainy and windy on Sept. 24th when Vinalhaven vocational education teacher Mark Jackson and one of his students, Philip Hopkins, set off on the 30-foot steel sloop Freya for the first six-week leg of a four-leg trip down and up the east coast. Crewmembers will change in the Chesapeake Bay area and St. Augustine, Florida.

The trip is the realization of a dream project initiated by Jackson’s students three years ago. Jackson had challenged his students to design a project that would test the limits of their imaginations. They decided building a boat capable of sailing around the world and then taking it on a long-distance voyage was that project. For the next three years, Jackson and his class were consumed by planning the project, rebuilding the boat and then planning the voyage.

This final part of the project has come to be known as VIVA, an acronym for Vinalhaven Island Viking Adventure. Students who participate in VIVA will be expected to keep up with their regular course work via mail and Internet access aboard Freya. In addition, each sailor will be responsible for maintaining, operating and navigating the boat, as well as keeping a journal, preparing reports for a website log, using audio equipment to document the trip and preparing and presenting a five- to eight-minute talk upon his or her return.

Hopkins is the only student sailing this leg of the trip. While he will miss the camaraderie of having a peer along, he maintains a good outlook. “Being the only student on this leg only means that I will learn more because all of Mark’s teaching attention will go toward me,” he said.

Though this is the only school-sponsored trip of its kind in the state of Maine, the insurance standards were no more stringent than for any other boat. Still, according to Jackson, they went “overboard” on safety in order to set at ease the minds of all involved, outfitting the boat with $2,500 worth of equipment above and beyond what was required by the insurance company. In addition to life jackets and a life ring, Freya is equipped with a man-overboard pole, jacklines from stem to stern, harnesses, four survival suits, a life raft and radio. But, Jackson said, the most important safety feature on the trip is an ample timetable to allow for weather and sea conditions. On each of the four legs he plans to start slowly, giving students a “break-in period” so they can get used to being aboard the boat. “I don’t want to have to rush to get on the hook before dark,” he said. For this reason, on their first night, he and Hopkins only motored as far as Lobster Pound Cove at Green’s Island, just off Vinalhaven, in order to get on a mooring and settled before the fog gave way to darkness. Each evening he and the crew will check the forecast and chart a potential course for the following day, estimating the time it will take to get to each destination. “You can be pretty accurate as long as the wind doesn’t change direction,” Jackson said. His plan for the duration of the trip is to check conditions throughout the night and get the earliest start possible. Changes in the weather will force changes in plans. “It will be interesting as an educational exercise,” Jackson said, “incorporating a lot of different factors into the plan, being well planned but flexible in thinking. One challenge will be to relax when we can’t go any farther.”

When conditions are optimal the Freya crew may sail through the night, on occasion. Crewmembers will take turns keeping three- or four-hour watches, depending on how many people are on board. During such watches, the lone crew member on deck will be required to wear a harness that will be hooked to the jack lines at all times.

Hopkins has spent most of his life on or around boats, having started lobstering at age eight. He also spent nine days sailing on the Harvey Gamage in middle school. “I am excited about seeing some of the old fishing towns like Gloucester, and Cape Cod,” he said, but “I am mostly excited about coming home and telling everyone about what a great experience I had and all the things I saw.”

According to his mother, Denise, Hopkins and Jackson did indeed see Cape Cod and Gloucester. They spent several hours on a mooring on Oct. 5 waiting for the tide in the Cape Cod Canal. Jackson and Hopkins had hoped to wait and sail through during daylight hours to take some pictures, but had to leave at night as they were being charged $7 per hour for the mooring. They then spent four days in Gloucester where they got their first showers of the trip. During this time they also took in several museums and did some routine maintenance on the boat.

As of Oct. 10, Freya was heading to New York, ahead of schedule. It was expected they would moor and spend some time in the city, as well as visit a Timber Framer’s Guild project on Long Island. Jackson would also like to spend some time in the Chesapeake Bay area. Each of the sailors will either begin or end his or her leg there. “I hope to have 10 days to two weeks on either side of the switch to explore the historical sites and the nation’s largest natural estuary,” he said.

From her perspective as a parent, Denise Hopkins has mixed emotions. “As a mother it is heart-wrenching to let go for six weeks, but it’s hard for me to be sad for him because he was looking forward to it,” she explained. “Phil is very much a hands-on person. He is in his element right now. I really feel he is going to come back a changed person. It’s an adventure of a lifetime, I don’t know how he can’t.”

You can follow the progress of the Freya crew online at